As soon as Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arrives in Paris from Tehran to finalize his divorce from Marie (Berenice Bejo), he becomes embroiled in a sticky situation. After he left four years ago, Marie began an illicit affair with Samir (Tahar Rahim), a married man whose wife is now hospitalized in a coma after an attempted suicide.
Morose, Samir has since moved in, bringing along his young son Fouad (Elyes Aguis) to join Marie's two daughters from a previous marriage -- young Lea (Jeanne Jestin) and 16-year-old Lucie (Pauline Burlet). Instead of booking Ahmad into a hotel, as he requested, Marie insists he stay at their dilapidated suburban house, ostensibly to try to find out what's bothering sullen, rebellious Lucie.
And the plot thickens when Marie reveals she's pregnant with Samir's child.
Writer/director Farhadi cleverly delineates his complex, multi-layered melodrama bit-by-bit, slowly revealing one pivotal twist after another, as Ahmad, the detached outsider, gradually learns more and more about the mysterious turmoil and shameful secrets that the rest of these characters are keeping from one another. Despite its title, the story eschews flashbacks, unfolding entirely in the present. What has occurred previously turns out to be the emotional baggage that they will always carry with them.
Most memorably, Farhadi sensitively exposes the tremendous price that vulnerable, insecure children pay when they're inexorably caught up in their parents' self-centered entanglements.
Best known as Peppy, the silent movie flapper in "The Artist," Bejo exudes hot-tempered, Gallic sexuality, heedless of the repercussions of her romantic predicaments, an authentic portrayal for which she won the Cannes Film Festival's Best Actress Award, while Mosaffa embodies insightful stability and Rahim stoically endures guilt and misery.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Past," in French/Persian with
English subtitles, is an intense, engrossing 8, compassionately unraveling the tapestry of contemporary family life.