I missed the opportunity to see Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation when it first came out in 2011 but it’s a mistake I hope to rectify soon, especially after viewing his latest film Le Passé (The Past). A quiet, simple film that nonetheless takes a truthful look at the intricacies of familial relationships, the difficulties of marriage, and the troublesome act of letting go.
Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) left his French wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and her two children Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and Léa (Jeanne Jestin) four years ago and returned to his native Iran. In that time, Marie fosters a new relationship with a man, Samir (Tahar Rahim) that she hopes to marry, and his son, Fouad (Elyes Aguis). Ahmad returns to France to sign the divorce papers but instead of leaving gets woven back into the lives of his family and the complicated situation they are currently in. Before Marie can marry Samir, there must be no doubt in Samir’s mind that his comatose wife will one day awaken. Marie’s children, especially her daughter Lucie, must also accept Samir which proves to be difficult for her when she discovers secrets about his and her mother’s affair. Lucie relies on Ahmad as a confidant, and in his efforts to help the family reconcile the past, he brings doubt about their future.
The idea of “the past” runs rampant throughout the film, with each character having to confront it in their own way. We get an idea of the difficulty this holds for Ahmad, who has obviously created a new life for himself in Iran and takes four years to return to France to formally end his marriage at the behest of Marie. It soon becomes clear why Ahmad stayed away for so long, as he quickly gets invested in the family’s drama and works to make sure he is able to leave the family (possibly for the last time) as stable as possible. The children are a little thrown by his return and seeing him now throws a complicated light on their mother’s pending marriage to Samir.
Marie’s place in all of this is probably the most psychologically rich, even though it often leaves her looking like a selfish, vengeful woman. Allowing Ahmad to stay at the house, knowing full well that Samir stays there frequently is a form of sadism that makes Marie come off as a little cruel with little justification for it. Ahmad is an extremely sympathetic character, probably the only one besides the two younger children. It’s only at the end of the film that we realize Marie’s last ditch attempt at closure by having Ahmad around long enough to help sort through some emotional baggage while simultaneously getting the confirmation that their relationship is “passé.”
Samir’s situation is also difficult because of his wife’s comatose state and the unfortunate marital strife they were embroiled in beforehand. He feels a sense of disgust for himself, and also a responsibility towards his son to provide him a good family while also guiding him through the loss of his mother. As much as he seems in love with Marie he feels a certain obligation towards his wife, a woman that he feels he wronged regardless of their mutual problems with each other.
It doesn’t need to be stated that this is a film about characters and the many different ways people are tied to the past with an inability to look towards the future with any sense of hopefulness. It’s also a study on the many ways we form social scripts and self-loathing rituals that need to be acted out before we can allow ourselves the gift of letting go. I’m very moved by Farhadi’s insight and look forward to future efforts that reveal such nuance across a range of characters and experiences.
Le Passé (The Past) opens today at the Ritz Five, and the Rave Ritz Center.