Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
With "A Separation" (2011), director Asghar Farhadi made what was to become the Iranian cinema's greatest international success, a worldwide hit that garnered numerous high-profile awards culminating in Iran's first-ever Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar. The film seemed to position its creator as an artist ready to leap from Iran onto the world stage, a promise handsomely fulfilled in its French-made follow-up, "The Past," another brilliantly mounted drama concerning fracturing families, hidden motives and the difficulties of attaining stability in a rapidly changing world.
Previous Iranian directors to achieve international renown evidenced strong ties to their nation's culture, especially its traditions in poetry, philosophy, literature and cinema. Farhadi by contrast, who came out of the theater and has cited influences such as Tennessee Williams, seems more readily adaptable to cultures beyond his own. And while "A Separation," which depicted a couple splitting up because the wife wanted to escape Iran, was viewed as a critique of current conditions in his native land, Farhadi seems to have little interest in politics or the kinds of cultural analyses offered in what he has called "films that try to explain Iran to the world." The one country that really seems to interest him is the human heart.
Of the three main adult characters in "The Past," one is Iranian, one French and one Arab. While it wouldn't be accurate to that these cultural identities are entirely unimportant—Farhadi wants to register the flux of nationalities in our increasingly globalized world—they are not the film's main subject, any more than conditions in Iran were in "A Separation." This time the borders that concern him most are those separating past, present and future, and the film's title accurately pinpoints the area that threatens to dominate and destabilize the other two.
The story opens as Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns from Tehran to Paris to help his wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) finalize their divorce. The two had lived together in France but have been separated for several years. From the first it's evident that there's still a skein of emotion connecting them, a mix of residual affection and resentment, but now Marie wants to move on by marrying Samir (Tahar Rahim), a laundry owner who has a more traumatic unresolved relationship hovering over him: his wife, who tried to commit suicide, lies in a coma. (The film never explains how Samir could remarry with his wife still alive; one must assume that French law permits this in certain circumstances.)