The dramatic one-two punch of 2009’s impressive About Elly and 2011’s masterpiece A Separation had many praising Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi as world cinema’s new master. In his powerful new relationship drama, The Past — which finds Farhadi relocating to Paris with remarkable ease — this well-earned reputation is never in doubt throughout, even if the film cannot quite match his previous effort (to be fair, very few films since have). Once again Farhadi details a family in strife following a separation, deliberately unravelling the layers of this complicated and circuitous narrative in the fashion of a gripping mystery thriller. Following a four-year absence, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns from Iran to sign the divorce papers sent by his ex, Marie (Bérénice Bejo), but is surprised upon arrival to learn that she is now living with another man, Samir (Tahar Rahim), and his young son — much to the displeasure of Marie’s oldest daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet). The spiraling series of conflicts, revelations and red herrings brought to the surface by Ahmad’s presence could easily fill a soap opera’s entire season, but Farhadi’s control of the material is superlative, as the expertly paced story keeps changing perspective to shed more light on a tragic event. As expected, the performances are impeccable across the board — Bejo (The Artist) was justly awarded Best Actress at Cannes for her wrenching turn; the thoughtful Mosaffa (Leila) and angsty Rahim (A Prophet) complement each other nicely; and the promising Burlet (who bears a striking resemblance to Marion Cotillard) is sure to be a future star of French cinema. While I found the third act to be a tad long and overly plotted, The Past is otherwise another intelligent, artful and stirring drama from a master at the peak of his powers.
Watch the trailer for The Past below, and find out when it is next screening here.