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

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

P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; }

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

Author: Adrin Neatrour

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *