Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

27 December 2013

The Past

You probably saw 2011's A Separation. It won the Best Foreign Language Oscar and it was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay that year. It was one of my top five films of 2011 and it was stellar, so I am assuming that you saw it.

If you did, then you remember that A Separation is the kind of domestic drama that builds and builds and builds until things feel unbearable – conflicts that at first seem like they might be simply solved are instead frustrated, exacerbated, compounded, until they seem completely impossible. A Separation might be considered a melodrama, a small story about the private feelings of only a few characters, but Farhadi's filmmaking transforms this kind of thing into high tragedy. I find myself caring desperately about his characters, studying them carefully, actively willing them to make the decision that I think will make them happier. Farhadi's work demands this kind of emotional investment in his beautifully rendered characters.

And so now I need to report that The Past (Le Passé) is completely on par with A Separation. This domestic drama is rooted in things that have happened before the film begins. As viewers we can only put the past together without ever totally understanding it. Farhadi's is a film about the past that doesn't contain any flashbacks. And this is one of the things The Past has to say: you can't figure it out. It's gone and what you thought you knew about it you're probably misremembering.

The Past is about all sorts of things, actually. In lots of ways it is also about how spaces contain us, change us, maybe drive us crazy. And it is also about trying to fix things that don't work, and how sometimes it is better not to try to fix what's broken.

The performances are excellent. Bérénice Bejo, Ali Mosaffa, Tahar Rahim, and Sabrina Ouazani are all amazing.

But The Past has not been shortlisted as a finalist for this year's Foreign Language Oscar despite being Iran's official submission. It is a glaring and strange omission that might mean that very few people see The Past. This would be a mistake. This film is one of the best of the year in any language.