Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Past (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Past

Family upheaval is universal . Such is the case with "The Past" a new film by Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) who creates his own brand of character driven existentialism in the tradition of Krzysztof KieĊ›lowski and Michael Haneke and handles all with a graceful precision that also offers space to ponder and reflect.

A spurned Iranian husband (Ali Mosoffa) returns to visit his ex-wife, Marie (Berenice Bejo) who is full of corrosive thunder and none too happy. Samir (Tahar Rahim) is the new beau, a bit of a dry character, self-assured but also slightly passive and insipid. We forgive him a bit even though he is creepily cheating on his hospitalized wife. Samir also has a troubled kid (Elyes Aguis) and a rocky dry cleaning business.

The left out hubby Ahmad, tries to be helpful, but is often the third wheel at  the table, as Marie and Samir fester with tension.

To make matters worse there is Lucie (played by the eerily beautiful Pauline Burlet) the Camusian teenage daughter who detests Samir for carrying on with her mom while his wife is incapacitated.

At first our wishes are firmly with Ahmad who is often relentlessly picked on and hapless, forced to contend with broken suitcases pushed out in a driving rain. In one vivid scene, Ahmad goes to the shed to rummage through his things, he finds and old picture of himself embracing Maria.

The once happy couple.

Then, there is a jolting cut to Samir using a power drill with an ear-splitting whine. The implication is obvious: Samir has the phallic power. He is the potent one, armed with domestic utility and he penetrates Ahmad's ego.

Just as we may have it figured out, however, our alliance shifts to Samir as an unknowing victim when it seems that Lucie had a part to play in some spiteful act of unforgivable revenge.

Last but not least, there is a contorted, angry and spitting Marie who is possessed in her selfishness, an absolute demon.

While this may be melodrama, it is superbly acted and will forever keep you guessing. This is an Islamic arabesque with many interlocking and interweaving tendrils of teasing trauma, all composed in a genuine mosaic of emotion with no easy outcomes. The acting is first rate and the moral dilemmas are nothing short of serpentine.

These are characters who are neither entirely to blame nor are they completely blameless. Their only short coming seems to be their non-action, bound with petty grievances and insecurities.

"The Past" makes a fitting bookend to director Farhadi's "A Separation" with all of these well-intentioned but morally intoxicated citizens held back by a fundamentalist society's all seeing snake-eyes coupled with the blight of perceived punishments and some stifling "what-ifs".

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