“The Past” (Le Passé)—Does the Past Define Us?

The Past

THE PAST (LE PASSÉ) was nominated for the 2013 Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or award, the Iranian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award , and a Golden Globe. Directed and written by Asghar Farhadi of “A Separation” fame (winner of the 2011 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film).

 Ahmad, an Iranian man (the remarkable Ali Mosaffa) deserted his French wife Marie Brisson (the sublime Bérénice Bejo of “The Artist”) and her two children from a previous marriage. Now living in Tehran, he is asked to return to Paris to finalize his divorce because Marie wishes to marry a third time–to Samir (played by Tahar Rahim) who has a young son, Fauod. In the opening scene Marie meets Ahmad at the airport, they embrace, and they run through the rain to their car. In the rear window Marie doesn’t have a clear view and she almost hits another vehicle. This small scene is symbolic of what follows: looking back at events in the past, and not getting a clear view of their meaning.

“The Past” is a a web of intrigue of Rashomon proportions. Everyone tells their version of the truth, but they do not explain everything, and the viewer is puzzled by intentions, motives, and history. As “The Past” unfolds, each character is imprisoned by his or her own version of the past. Opportunities to move forward are constantly threatened by each character’s backstory.The past seems to dominate and destabilize, reminding us of our own mistakes and unintended consequences.

The movie, “The Past”, conveys Pedro Almodovar’s brilliant comprehension of women’s journeys: looking back at past turmoil without understanding how the past can define them if they let it. Here, in “The Past”, each female voice is counterpointed by an equally compelling male one, drawing us ever more deeply into understanding very flawed characters, involving shifting of point of view and perspective that we see in the very best novelists.

The mid-point of the drama hits a few speed bumps, but the plot twists command the viewer’s attention and the personal drama packs quite a punch with the impending day of reckoning for each character. The camera refuses to give us any relief even at the very end, when the most essential question of the drama is raised. “The Past is an emotional head-spinning ride that won’t leave anyone indifferent.

 

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2 comments on ““The Past” (Le Passé)—Does the Past Define Us?

  1. Thank you for this. Sounds like one of those emotionally complex and marvelously subtle European films that carries the viewer to new perspectives (pardon the pun). Will look for it.

  2. Hi, Diana.
    I don’t think this film ever came to my town. I’ll look for it. I love emotionally complex characters and situations. For example, I still think about Fates and Furies. What a book! I’ll likely re-read it some day.

    Thanks for drawing my attention to this film.

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“The Innocents”—And War

Guest blogger: Barbara Donsky, author of the memoir Veronica’s Grave,  and blog owner of www.desperatelyseekingParis.com  For the unedited version of this review go to Barbara Donsky’s blog

 

Les innocentes

Les innocentes

Writers and film-makers continue to successfully mine stories stemming from World War II. “The Innocents”  is such a film—a Polish-French venture by the director Anne Fontaine that takes place in December 1945. Based on real events as described by Madeleine Pauliac, a French Red Cross doctor who had served with French troops in war-torn Poland, the film illuminates the various crises of faith that befall a convent of nuns who have been ravaged by marauding Russian troops who forced their way into the monastery and raped the helpless women.

Traumatized by their harrowing experiences, the nuns, having taken vows of chastity, are incapable of dealing with the violations of their bodies and their vows. None escapes the humiliation and shame of what has befallen them, no matter how unwarranted that shame might be.

How can God, in all His mercy,  allow such a terrible thing to happen to these unprotected sisters? What is the meaning of this diabolical turn of events? And what’s to become of the children?

The steely Reverend Mother (Agata Kulesza) is, above all, concerned that this scandal—a convent filled with pregnant nuns—not become public, as it could shred the authority of the Catholic Church. As the film engages the viewer from moral, spiritual and institutional perspectives, it brings to mind more recent scandals and institutional crises involving the Catholic Church that have, indeed, contributed to a weakening of religious institutions.

Filmed in muted tones by Caroline Champetier, the spare observational cinematography is magnificent—perfectly in keeping with the prayerful calm and simplicity of a Benedictine monastery, with the silence observed by the nuns at meals, and with the purity of the Angelus as sung at break of day, noon and evensong.

If the upbeat ending is unexpected, “The Innocents” is a blistering war movie by talented women about strong women looking out for one another and doing what needs to be done to survive.

Note:  “The Innocents” (Les Innocentes) is now in limited release at theaters nationwide.

“Closed Circuit”—We’re Under Surveillance

Closed Circuit 2

“Closed Circuit” (2013), an adrenaline-pumping political thriller, portrays corrupt government forces who will stop at nothing. It’s an exciting genre. The title “Closed Circuit” is designed to raise the alarm over both the injustice of closed court hearings and the use of surveillance technology. Covert surveillance amplifies the sense that London has become a police state with ubiquitous security cameras. We don’t know who’s watching or how they’re using what they see.

The opening scene provides the hook. After a truck explodes in London’s bustling Borough Market, killling 120 people,   authorities at MI5 swiftly arrest a Muslim immigrant, Farroukh Erdogan based on closed circuit surveillance. The government assigns two separate lawyers to represent the accused, one for public sessions, the other for secret sessions. The government argues the evidence is so sensitive that national security pre-empts due process. (Think Patriot Act). Martin (played by Eric Bana) will try Erdogan’s case in public and Claudia (Rebecca Hall), will present evidence in front of the judge during the closed sessions of the trial, evidence the defendant himself is not allowed to hear. Martin and Claudia, however, are ex-lovers but fail to recuse themselves, since the case is so compelling. Moral questions on all sides begin to proliferate as Martin and Claudia dig deeper.   They soon realize that their client is not who the prosecution is making him out to be.

Closed_Circuit_3

The acts of terrorism depicted in “Closed Circuit” are meant to justify national security agencies’ means and methods of indicting and trying the accused. “Closed Circuit” depicts the injustice of power wielded by MI5 in secret, in contrast to the MI5 that British society permits to bend rules for their citizens’ protection. The overriding theme of “Closed Circuit”–when the powerful makes the rules, all everyone else can do is play along.

This taut film represents a style of conspiratorial “nobody-wins” storytelling seldom seen since the days of “No Way Out” and “Ides of March”.  Here, the Power is represented with chilling smarminess and ruthless insincerity by Jim Broadbent. A New York Times reporter (Julia Stiles), the MI5 administrator (Ann-Marie Duff), and solicitor (Ciaran Hinds) all add to the intrigue, with unexpected plot twists. Everyone’s allegiances are suspect, and surprise betrayals abound.

“Closed Circuit” is definitely worth seeing, if you want something more cerebral and something that will bother you a bit afterwards. This British courtroom thriller challenges the validity of policies that shield key evidence from public scrutiny.