Daily Archives: Monday, April 14, 2014

  • The Past (Le Passe) Asghar Farhadi (Fr. 2013)

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    The Past (Le Passe) Asghar Farhadi
    (Fr; 2013) Benebice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Moustafa

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 8th
    April 2014; Ticket £8.80


    Farhadi’s film The Past, left me
    with the opposite set of feelings from when I had viewed his earlier
    movie a Separation.

    Separation, set and filmed in Iran,
    left its plot unresolved in the hands of the couple’s daughter.
    Resolution of the plot was suspended, the film leaving the audience
    on a note of the possibility of hope in the figure of daughter Termeh
    and the choices she was about to make in relation to her life.
    There was also in Separation an underlying but palpable optimism
    engendered by interactions with the agencies and institutions of
    Iran. They were painted as being mediated by people, not
    automatons. Despite and in spite of the heavy hand of religious
    authority there was determination by people to live between the cogs
    of the bureaucracy which gave life a wary degree of freedom, vitality
    and unpredictability. The manner in which film was shot, from the
    opening shot of the replication of documents from under the glass of
    a photocopier, to the presence of the hand held camera. lent insight
    and edge to the way social relations were seen and represented.

    In Separation the process of living
    never seemed a matter mechanical contrivance. Islamic diktats
    provided the psycho social constraints within which individuals had
    to fashion their own solutions and subjectivities. A creative

    Cut to the Past.

    The Past feels like a mechanical death
    trap. Farhadi’s machine of exile. The Past feels like the film of a
    man exiled and reduced to going through the motions of being alive
    when cut off from the mainspring of his home life force. The Past
    communicates as a film of entrapment, the kind of entrapment that we
    choose for ourselves. An exile facing nothing but the perversity of
    the self. When socio-religious forces impose, those feeling
    imposition work within the interstices of life to find free movement
    particularly in thought When we entrap ourselves within psychic
    mechanisms of our own making, there is no way out. We cannot even
    think. We experience a mental entombment. And this is the picture
    that Farhadi paints of exile in France. French society (in no
    significant respect different from any other Western society) as a
    deterritorialised subjectivity. Fahadi’s subjects, both native and
    exile are doomed to recurrent failure of the body and soul, locked
    into pointless replication of their emotional emptyness. They
    resign themselves to going though the motions of living, as
    incapable of movement as the woman on life support, on whose image
    the film appropriately ends.

    Another situation
    As with a Separation Fahadi begins the
    Past with a situation that centres around the issue of uncontested
    divorce between two parties. In Separation the situations expressed
    contain several narrative lines; none of these lines ever take over
    the energy and forces at work within the scenario.

    In the Past however the situations
    comprising the emotional and social forces that contain his subjects
    are quickly consumed by the narrative, that entraps the protagonists
    into the unwinding of a sort of whodoneit (more accurately a
    whyshedidit). The situations are gradually taken over by one event in
    the past, the attempted suicide of the wife of one of the
    protagonists. The plot development, with its contemporary
    Scandinavian intricacies) takes over all the relations in the film,
    and spreads though the scenario like a cancer, until with only the
    mechanics of plot revelation at work, nothing else is left alive in
    the film. Everyone is reduced to being a cipher of the plot.

    The Past moves from being observational
    to purely reactive. As the plot is subjected to increasing emotional
    amplification; its only recourse is to increased melodramatic acting
    out by the actors. Fahadi leaves himself no space to develop the film
    other than the conventions of soap opera.

    This default to soap may have been a
    deliberate artistic decision. A parody of the poverty of European
    dramatic expression if so Fahardi doesn’t make this clear. Perhaps
    it was a business decision; to bow to the pressure of the production
    companies that he should make a film with a plot that would comply
    with the conventions recognisable to Western Audiences.
    But whatever the reason, the
    consequence for the Past is that this form simply takes over the
    film. And the Past yields decreasing returns as the situational
    aspect of and relations in exile are glossed over. The real
    problems are thrown overboard for the melodramatic machinations of
    the plot within which every one becomes a puppet attached to the
    apron strings of soap necessity.
    In accordance with its soapy structure,
    The Past is shot in the style of industry standard set ups. The
    camera is mounted on tripod or steady-cam, stable and recording shot
    and reaction to shot, mostly in confined interiors. The nature of
    the confined interiors do introduce an element of claustrophobia but
    not sufficient to counterbalance the constraining conventions of TV.
    For a film of two hours duration the standard camera work becomes
    another impoverishing element that is locked into the film, as if the
    director had given wanting to think and had decided just to push
    through the set ups.

    There are features within the scenario
    that suggest Fahadi had a original glimmering of another movie.
    The rain: the incessant rain experienced by the exile, both real and
    metaphorical. Fahadi’s delight, particularly at the start of the
    film, in slight mistakes, corrections and missteps, all
    characteristic of actual life and pointing to associated states of
    mind. And his scripting device that exploits the idea of
    individuals needing to return to go back to finish or clarify
    something incomplete. A Dostoevsky type of compulsion and
    determination to get to something underlying. A device that invoked
    reflective issues that were lost as melodrama won out.

    The Past felt like a movie that started
    out as one thing, the situation of exile; but ended up as an other, a
    series of events pressed into reactive drama. As in Separation
    Farhadi tries in the Past to balance the scales of his discourse on
    the perspective of the child. But in the Past his wise child Fouad,
    simply does not have the necessary freedom of Termeh in Separation,
    to make a real contribution to the balance of the script. He is too
    young and too overwhelmed by the mechanics of the events to have a
    real voice. So the film dies back and ends without a thought to
    sustain. The final shot is a close up, of the clasped hands of the
    man and his deeply unconscious wife. Perhaps a little like Fahadi
    himself, in exile torn between life and death.

    On a final note the script does have an
    elementary confusion at its semantic core. Celine the comatose wife
    is repeated referred to as having committed suicide. But she has not
    committed suicide, she attempted unsuccessfully (as far as the script
    reveals) to commit suicide. She is still alive. I often feel when a
    movie presents a basic inconsistency at its core, it is a sign that
    there are deeper problems with the material, personal or structural,
    that were never resolved.

    Adrin Neatrour