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'The Past' review: The past haunts the future in Farhadi's award-winning film

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Two years ago, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi garnered international acclaim with his Golden Globe and Oscar Foreign Film winner, “A Separation” (2011). Will Farhadi’s newest film, the already critically acclaimed, “The Past” do the same? It deservedly has a strong chance.

Opening in Los Angeles on December 20 at The Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, “The Past,” is one of those engrossing, complex dramas showcasing the skilled talents of Tahar Rahim (“A Prophet”), Berenice Bejo (“The Artist”) and Ali Mosaffa. Set in the suburbs of Paris, “The Past” follows Iranian Ahmad’s (Mosaffa) return to Paris at the request of his French wife Marie (Bejo). They’ve been separated for four years and she’s asked Ahmad to return to finalize their divorce so she can marry her new boyfriend, Samir (Rahim).

Not knowing if Ahmad will actually show (he’s been asked to return before), Marie forgoes booking a hotel room, and instead puts him up in her home with her two girls from a previous marriage, who he briefly “step-fathered,” and a young boy who is the son of her current love. Marie also wants Ahmad’s help with smoothing her relationship with teen daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet).

Central to the tale is Samir’s wife who lies in a coma, maybe to never wake again. As Marie, Ahmad, Samir and Lucie try to step into the future, stunning revelations from the past ground them to a standstill.

In his film’s production notes, Farhadi states, “I’ve never had any personal experience with a coma, but I’ve always associated this state with a sense of uncertainty, a space between life and death, wondering if the person should be considered dead or alive. Here the film is entirely built on this notion of doubt.”

The theme of doubt is prevalent throughout the film. Each character has his or her doubts about their individual futures that are tied to events in their past. But will the misconceptions, and/or misinterpretations of events of the past, cloud the very future they hope to step into?

The Past,” is extremely compelling as the revelations unfold. The long rehearsal period that Farhadi utilized pre-filming pays off with the nuanced performances of his fine cast. One believes whole-heartedly in these characters; it’s as if we’d dropped into their complicated lives.

Interesting too, Iranian director Farhadi doesn’t speak French and had a translator at all times on set. Perhaps because he’s not focused on precise dialog that he’s able to elicit such fine performances through intricate emotions, glances, and movement (and of course his thorough rehearsals).

Berenice Bejo has already picked up the Best Actress award for her performance as Marie when the film premiered at Cannes earlier this year, and the film recently was awarded the Best Foreign Language Film by the National Board of Review. Only time will tell whether history repeats itself with Golden Globe and Oscar wins for Asghar Farhadi’s “The Past.”

“The Past” is 130 minutes and Rated PG-13. It opens in Los Angeles at The Royal Theatre on December 20.

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