by Willard Manus
The Iranian filmmaker Ashar Farhadi had a huge international success in 2011 with A SEPARATION, but his followup effort THE PAST will do little to enhance his reputation. Shot in France, with mostly French dialogue (though two central characters are Iranian), THE PAST tells a dreary story in a boring way.
Ali Mosaffa plays Ahmad, a brooding Iranian who returns to Paris after an absence of four years. Meeting him at the airport is his estranged wife Marie (Berenice Bejo), who is not only the mother of two (with another on the way, we learn later) but is intending to marry Samir (Tahar Rahim), who has a child of his own by another woman. Marie has also lived with two other men in the past decade, both of whom have dumped her for reasons she can't fathom. It's pretty clear to the audience, though, as she is about as unpleasant, whiny and cantankerous a woman as one could ever meet. The last time she smiled, probably, was the day she was born.
Samir, owner of a prosperous dry-cleaning shop (though he lives in a dump), is still married to a woman who has been in a coma for the last few months, having overdosed in an attempt at suicide. He still seems to favor Marie, though--even though he never once evinces the slightest bit of affection toward her. Same goes for Marie, by the way.
Caught in the middle of this gloopy domestic triangle is Lucie (Pauline Burlet), Marie's 16-year-old daughter by a man now living-- wisely-- in Brussels. Lucie hates Samir and does her conniving best to prevent him from marrying her mother. She is also consumed with guilt over having sent Samir's wife several malicious e-mails. Also caught up in these interminable squabbles is Naima (Sabrina Ouazani), a young Iranian girl who presses pants in Samir's shop.
Writer/director Farhadi's theme is the dysfunctional family. That's all well and good, but outside of an elderly Iranian couple who run a suburban cafe--and try their best to mediate THE PAST'S domestic skirmishes--there isn't a single even remotely likable character in this long, dull, utterly witless movie.
(THE PAST is Iran's official selection for the 86th Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film)