Reviews - The Past
Reviewed By Chris Coombes
Coming back to finalize his divorce, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), an Iranian man, arrives in France after four years to meet his (soon-to-be) ex-wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) and her daughters from her previous marriage. She is in a relationship with an Arab man named Samir who has a son (Fouad) and whose wife is in a coma as the result of an attempted suicide. The relationship between Marie and her older daughter, Lucie, is strained because Lucie disapproves of her mother"s relationship with Samir.
So far, so straight forward. Then, as we watch this sumptuously filmed piece we realise we are un-peeling a complex and vividly structured onion. The more layers that are exposed the more we find that intrigues us and make us question what we thought was happening. The pace is slow but compelling and very little plot is revealed in a way that is conventionally helpful. This is a story about the sharing of guilt and responsibility and about appreciating that truth is always dependent on whose perspective the narrative comes from.
There were terrific performances from the whole cast, but for me the strongest and most delightful was that of Elyes Aguis as Fouad, a boy of about 8 years old whose intense observation of what goes on in the adult world, and who constantly teeters on the edge of panic and fear as he tries to cling to an idea of "home" was immensely moving. There is an undercurrent in the film of what it is to be part of an immigrant group in what might be seen as a hostile land; Fouad epitomises the tensions associated with loss of security, family and familiarity. He is also the only character who is able to recognize that his mother is unlikely to recover from her coma and is – to him at least –already dead.
I found it challenging that Marie, the central character is not sympathetic. She can't see the world from any point of view but her own, and the other characters are dragged into her force field in spite of any aspirations they may have to the contrary. There is a lovely scene near the end when she and Samir meet in his dry-cleaning shop-front to discuss their future. Samir closes up and activates the security grill that slowly engulfs him and Marie in a dark cage – a cage of their own making that they are apparently incapable of escaping. Throughout the film much of the action takes place in claustrophobic interiors – focusing on the characters' inability to see the bigger picture and ease some of the tension they are experiencing.
Yes, a great start to the season, a brilliant choice. Next week's film promises to be equally strong. "Omar" is a Palestinian thriller set around the wall between Palestine and Israel. One not to be missed.
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