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Movie review: 'The Past' is small family drama with big impact

Published February 14, 2014 10:58 am

Review • Farhadi's sharp script hinges on tiny, low-key details.
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"The Past," Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's absorbing follow-up to his Oscar-winning "A Separation," is like real life in that so much drama turns on the smallest moments.

Farhadi's detailed melodrama is set in Paris, but that doesn't remove it from facing many of the same issues of marital obligation that imbued the Iranian-based "A Separation."

Marie (played by "The Artist's" Bérénice Bejo), a Frenchwoman, has been separated from her Iranian husband, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), for four years. Ahmad makes a trip from Tehran to Paris, at Marie's request, to sign the papers that would finalize their divorce.

Marie wants this divorce, after years of separation, because she intends to marry Samir (played by Tahar Rahim, from "A Prophet") — who is, like Ahmad, of Iranian heritage. Marrying Samir isn't simple, either, because his wife is still alive — but in a coma, unlikely to ever recover after an attempted suicide some years before.

On his visit, Ahmad sees that Lucie (Pauline Burlet), Marie's teen daughter from a previous relationship (she's French — what can I say?), is at odds with her mother. He tries to talk to Lucie and act as a moderator, but he winds up stirring up some strong emotions and learns of a long-buried secret involving Marie, Samir and the reason Samir's wife is in a coma.

In synopsis, Farhadi's script sounds like a soap opera. But the way he presents it, in low-key conversations around the kitchen table, it feels as real and as immediate as any family situation. And he reveals information slowly, teasingly, so that in the end the effect is shattering.

Farhadi also is blessed with a solid cast. Mosaffa and Rahim play the opposite sides of Marie's relationship triangle — the man she's leaving and the man she's moving toward — with delicacy. But it's Bejo, who plays every emotional beat perfectly, who breaks your heart and makes "The Past" something worth reliving.

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'The Past'

A woman seeks a divorce so she can move forward, but things aren't so simple in this emotional drama.

Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.

When • Opens Friday.

Rating • PG-13 for mature thematic material and brief strong language

Running time • 130 minutes; in French and Persian, with subtitles.