Tahar Rahim as Samir-Bérénice Bejo as Marie
Photo by Carole Bethuel - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

For writer-director Asghar Farhadi, devising a film to follow the great success of his Oscar-winning A Separation couldn’t have been easy…and if The Past doesn’t quite match that searing drama, it’s still pretty powerful. Set in France and produced in the French language, the story deals with an Iranian man (Ali Mosaffa) who comes to Paris at the request of his ex-wife (Bérénice Bejo) to complete their divorce settlement, after four years apart. When he arrives, he finds himself in the midst of emotional turmoil, mostly having to do with his ex’s new boyfriend (Tahar Rahim, from A Prophet) and her teenage daughter, who resents Mosaffa bitterly.

Bérénice Bejo as Marie and Ali Mosaffa as Ahmad-302
Photo by Carole Bethuel - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Farhadi dramatizes the way that people can believe something to be true and respond to it, leading to a chain-reaction of misunderstandings, bitterness, and recrimination. It’s a very compassionate film and his male protagonist is a warm and empathetic character. We know nothing about his existence in Iran; there is a brief, passing reference to the old country, but this story could take place anywhere. Its emotional honesty is relatable and universal.

The director works so well with his actors that everything seems genuine and naturalistic, even the scenes involving young children, which are quite remarkable. Bérénice Bejo registers strongly as a woman who finds herself caught between her ex-husband and her possible future spouse, between her emotionally volatile teenage daughter and her new boyfriend. In fact, there are no weak links in this excellent film for adult audiences.