THE PAST is an Iranian film from director Asghar Farhadi, whose last film, A SEPARATION, won the Oscar last year for Best Foreign Film.
I think THE PAST is the better film. It's an absorbing family drama that feels very much like real life.
We first encounter two of the main characters (a married couple) at a Paris airport where they are separated by a wall of glass. (They can see but not hear each other, an obvious metaphor for their relationship.)
Ahmad, played by Ali Mosaffa, is a husband who, for reasons that are never revealed, left his wife and went back to Iran four years ago. Now, Marie, played by Berenice Bejo (who starred in the Oscar winner, THE ARTIST) has asked him to come back to sign divorce papers.
But Ahmad doesn't seem quite ready to let go of their marriage, at least not until he discovers what's really going on.
Ahmad: You live with someone? Marie: Didn't you wonder why I asked you to come to get a divorce?
Here are some of the additional complications: Marie has two daughters from a previous marriage. The older daughter, Lucie, loves Ahmad and hates Marie's new boyfriend, Shamir.
Lucie: If they get married, I'll never set foot in this house again.
Shamir has a child of his own, an unhappy little boy who also lives in Marie's crowded, ramshackle house. Plus, Sharmir is married, too, though his wife is in a coma after trying to commit suicide.
I won't give away any more of the many surprising revelations, because the audience is meant to gradually discover what's going on, the way Ahmad does.
Ahmad: Why do I have to be here in the middle of this?
It sounds like a soap opera, but it comes off feeling like the messiness of real life.
Ahmad does what he can to help with all the kids, but though he remains calm and rational his mere presence stirs up an already difficult situation.
Shamir: Did you have to come? You could have sent a lawyer. Ahmad: Yes, but I wanted to come, to see the kids and Marie and to end on good terms. Shamir: When two people meet again four years later and start fighting again, it means things still aren't resolved.
And things never do get resolved for any of the main characters, all of whom them are at least partly at fault for the impossible mess they're in.
For me, THE PAST is a compelling story of people who can't escape their past choices. The only problem is an ending that leaves the characters and the audience in limbo.