Thursday, April 10, 2014

Let's Review Something: The Past

Sometimes, when you have such a dramatic high, the world expects too much of you to the point where nothing you put out, even the good stuff, is met with this glance of disapproval and disappointment because it just isn’t what everyone expected.  Lofty expectations can be a killer, to both the audience and the filmmaker.  A lot was made of Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to the sensational Oscar winner, ‘A Separation’.  I know that it was high on my ‘must see’ list, and everything about the film, including the mystery surrounding the plot, had me all in.

I couldn’t wait for this!

Sadly, I missed this in the theater (or is it a sad thing?) and so I had to wait for the DVD to drop, but once it did I snatched it up and settled in the other night to take in what I expected to be sheer greatness.

I was left scratching my head a bit, completely disappointed in this film and wondering if it was because I expected too much or because the film just simply isn’t very good.

I’ve settled on the later.

Here’s my deal; where much of ‘A Separation’ felt shrouded in this mystery that served a greater purpose and left us with a resolve that felt so grounded in a realism made identifiable (and lasting), ‘The Past’ just feels mysterious for the sake of giving us something to try and pay attention to, and when all is revealed we’re left with an emptiness, simply because the mystery becomes anticlimactic and unrewarding.  It doesn’t help that the conclusion feels so abrupt and untruthful, and this has a lot to do with the fact that the film spends two hours doing practically nothing, when it should have been developing these characters. 

When all is said and done, everyone feels so one-dimensional. 

The film tells the story of a couple finalizing their divorce.  In the wake of this, the wife, Marie, has taken up with a married man, Samir, whose wife has attempted suicide and lies in the hospital in a coma.  Marie exchanges men every few years, and so she has two daughters from two different men (neither of which is her husband, Ahmad, or her current lover) and because of this her eldest daughter, Lucie, resents her and causes her grief by staying out all night and bickering with her.  Lucie is also harboring a secret, but I won’t touch that.  The lives of these four people are interwoven and ultimately come crashing into one another when Ahmad takes it upon himself to uncover secrets and fix problems and then abruptly wash his hands of it all and leave.

Thanks for that.

The real issue is that nothing feels developed past a concept.  Like, Marie hops around but why?  Nothing is really explored and so she becomes a very despicable woman and a selfish one at that, and yet I think there is supposed to be something deeper here.  Samir is basically a soulless cypher who causes trouble with his appearance but really has no deeper purpose.  We don’t get to know him outside of a few tiffs he has with Marie and so his character becomes a forgettable one, to the point where his final decisions feel weakly inserted into the film.  Ahmad and Lucie get a little more development, and Pauline Burlet (who looks just like Marion Cotillard) delivers a very sincere and honest performance, but her arc was just so unmoving.  I didn’t really care, and I needed to care for it to make any sort of impact.

Like, I waited this long…for this?

And the constant back and forth of ‘is she lying/is there more/one more secret/someone else is lying/oh you’re telling the truth’ was redundant and took away from the storytelling.

But the acting was solid, if a bit stagnant in parts (and Bejo was uniformly unremarkable and didn’t deserve that Cannes Award at all), but the kids clearly outshined the adults in every way.  I find it fascinating to know that Cotillard was initially cast as Marie (makes perfect sense considering Burlet played the daughter) and I wonder how much better the film would have been had she been cast, but then again, the real issues here were in the script and so I’m glad she didn’t tarnish her increasingly remarkable resume with this film.

I give this a C-.  I really wanted so much more from this, and maybe that has clouded my judgement a little, but the fact that I walked away from this basically not caring AT ALL made a real impression on me, and not a good one (obviously).  I'm not surprised at all that Oscar snubbed this, despite the critical acclaim.  They were smart.


  1. Wow. I was expecting to give this an acting nod or two (especially Bejo). I'll try to lower my expectations. :)

    1. I wanted this to be so much better than it was...