*** (out of four)
Infidelity! Dirty family secrets! Double-crossing!
It's the formula for daytime melodrama, but Asghar Farhadi's "The Past" never feels like a soap opera or an "August: Osage County" shouting match. Maybe it's because no one smashes a wine glass or discovers a long-lost evil twin. (Unfortunately.) It's also because Farhadi has such a steady command of drama. As in the superior "A Separation," "The Past" sets up a complicated, extreme-but-feasible situation and observes the domino effect of human decisions and emotions.
After four years away in Iran, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to France and discovers his wife, Marie (Berenice Bejo, Best Supporting Actress nominee for "The Artist"), now lives with and plans to marry Samir (Tahar Rahim of "A Prophet"). Marie's daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) wouldn't be thrilled anyway, but she's especially upset because Samir's still married to a woman who's been in a coma for several months. Then Marie says she's pregnant and a surprising act comes to light. And a difficult scenario goes from a 9 to a 14 on a 1-to-10 scale of tough business.
The somewhat stretched-out "The Past" doesn't have the same tense momentum or power of "A Separation." Yet even in its measured pacing, the film easily commands attention. These are rich and very well-acted characters (Bejo picked up an award at Cannes 2013), and even if their problems aren't relatable, what's universal is the struggle to determine who to blame and if that even matters.
After all, the regret may linger regardless -- one of the many ways the past and "The Past" can stick around whether you want it to or not.
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