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The Past: Blu-ray + DVD Review

The Past (Le passé) (2013) movie poster The Past (Le passé)

US Theatrical Release: December 20, 2013 / Running Time: 130 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: Asghar Farhadi

Cast: Bérénice Bejo (Marie-Anne Brisson), Ali Mosaffa (Ahmad), Tahar Rahim (Samir), Pauline Burlet (Lucie), Elyes Aguis (Fouad), Jeanne Jestin (Léa), Sabrina Ouazani (Naïma), Babak Karimi (Shahryar), Valeria Cavalli (Valeria), Aleksandra Klebanska (Céline), Jean-Michel Simonet (Doctor), Pierre Guerder (Judge), Anne-Marion de Cayeux (Attorney)

Buy The Past from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD

Two years after writing and directing 2011's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner A Separation, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi is back at it. The Past tells another story about a couple's dissolution, this time in France and French.

The film opens with French pharmacist Marie-Anne Brisson (The Artist's Bérénice Bejo) meeting an Iranian man at the airport. We suspect it is her husband and in a manner of speaking it is. Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) has been separated from Marie for four years and has returned to Paris to finalize their divorce. Instead of the hotel Ahmad asked her to book for him, Marie brings him to the home they once shared.

In Asghar Farhadi's "The Past", a separated couple (Bérénice Bejo and Ali Mosaffa) reunites to finalize a divorce.

There, he discovers Léa (Jeanne Jestin), Marie's young daughter he's helped raise, has a slightly younger playmate in Fouad (Elyes Aguis). The residency of the boy and his father, Marie's new boyfriend, dry cleaner Samir (Tahar Rahim), is news to Ahmad of the unsettling variety. He's ready to find that hotel, but reconsiders so that he can reconnect with Marie's 16-year-old daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet). Lucie is going through a rough patch, fighting with her mother and rarely coming home until late. She explains to Ahmad that she's not happy with her mother's new boyfriend.

Though Lucie is open and respectful with Ahmad, the reasons she gives for her dislike of Samir are far more complicated than she initially lets on. Everyone in this film harbors guilt and secrets, perhaps Lucie most of all. She confides in Ahmad about Samir's wife, who has been comatose for months following a suicide attempt that continues to haunt everyone. The circumstances of that dramatic, publically-staged attempt are shrouded in mystery but slowly come to light.

On a train platform, Samir (Tahar Rahim) tries to understand his son's lack of cooperation. Teenaged daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) confides in Ahmad the source of the heavy guilt weighing her down.

For a while, The Past feels a lot like A Separation and makes you fear Farhadi is simply repeating himself. Eventually, though, this film goes its own way, one that is arguably more compelling and captivating than the path explored in Farhadi's previous effort.
The Past does a terrific job of immersing us in these lives and making us familiar with these two and a half families' private, intertwined struggles.

Every character brings a distinct perspective to this burdensome intersection and Farhadi succeeds at giving each their due. He does so while moving our focus from one thing to another fluidly and naturally. One moment, we're concerned with sleeping arrangements in the house, unspoken tensions, and unresolved issues. The next, our minds are on something else different entirely. To make that leap without viewers feeling manipulated or being alerted that they're watching something scripted is no small feat. Though the director brings some visual flair to the proceedings, nimbly moving the camera and holding on long takes, our attention is never on the technical presentation, but the dramatic one, which unfolds with rawness, candor, and authenticity.

This is a bona fide melodrama without the negative connotations that word presently invokes. It's long and a bit slow, but the immersion in this complex, intimate universe is far too interesting to mind. Farhadi can't resist a good metaphor, finding value in a broken suitcase, a leaky sink, and a forced apology. His script ties moments together in creative ways, giving them meaning that you sometimes don't appreciate until later in the film. It's an intelligent, mature structure which demands close viewing. The film raises questions and expectations, most of which it either answers or meets. One exception is Marie's history of lovers, into which it's tough to fit Ahmad and the deep-seated importance that surrounds him. There's an unseen ex in Brussels, Léa hardly seems old enough to remember someone who hasn't been in her life for four years, and Lucie's admiration for Ahmad seems a bit tough to comprehend too. Consistently strong acting hides potential plot holes like that and sells instances with the potential to invite disbelief.

Though it performed comparably in France and less significant European markets, The Past otherwise failed to recreate the box office impact of Farhadi's previous effort, its $1.3 million North American gross a far cry from A Separation's $7.1 M. The reviews were overwhelmingly favorable but ever so slightly less so than Separation's near-unanimous praise. Submitted by Iran and expected to contend for the same Oscar, The Past failed to even crack the Academy's nine-deep shortlist. Its omission was one of two big surprises that kept Sony Pictures Classics out of the category altogether, which is unusual for the stalwart importer, which also was shut out of the Best Documentary Feature race. The Past did earn a nomination from the Golden Globes' Foreign Language Film award, which like the Oscar went to Italy's The Great Beauty.

Its theatrical run mostly behind it, The Past reached stores yesterday in a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack.

The Past: Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (French); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: March 25, 2014
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Past looks great on Blu-ray, its 1.85:1 presentation utilizing nearly every pixel of 1080p resolution and thus boasting great detail and sharpness. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio handles the French soundtrack without incident. Surprisingly, the ordinarily global-minded Sony doesn't offer subtitles apart from English and English SDH ones. The Blu-ray's clean subtitles are way preferable to the DVD's blocky yellow ones.

"Making 'The Past'" shows us the cast's rehearsal process. Asghar Farhadi speaks in Farsi at a Directors Guild Q&A session.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by writer-director Asghar Farhadi. It's in Farsi, but with English subtitles. Commentaries are tough enough to half-listen to,
but I didn't have the time or patience to read this one all the way through. A 20-minute sampling was enough to appreciate that Farhadi's remarks are thoughtful, screen-specific and largely void of lulls. They identify filming locations and discuss conditions.

"Making The Past" (26:56) takes us inside the production, with Farhadi discussing the importance of filming in Paris, but not in a touristy way. We see the primary set's construction, cast rehearsals (not only of scenes, but to flesh out characters' pasts), camera set-ups, and Farhadi's interpreter-aided directing manner. It's a solid featurette which should satisfy most viewers' supplemental needs by itself.

Should you hunger for more, there is a Directors Guild of America Q&A session with Asghar Farhadi (38:30). Dorna Khazeni translates the director's answers to questions by Victoria Hochberg (and then the audience) about his writing process, the film's spellbinding conclusion, working with children, his background in theatre, his depiction of gender, his editing process, and why the film is set in France.

The Past's US trailer touts its critical acclaim. The static menu resembles the cover art, but it differs in some strange ways.

The extras conclude with The Past's theatrical trailer (2:03).

Filled near dual-layered capacity,
the DVD kindly includes all the same bonus features as the Blu-ray.

The discs open with trailers for Tim's Vermeer, For No Good Reason, The Invisible Woman, Blue Jasmine, The Armstrong Lie, and Wadjda. The menus' Previews listing repeat all of the same things.

The scored, static menu gives us Berenice Bejo's cover pose with slightly different company around it. The Blu-ray supports bookmarking and resumes playback.

Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) cleans a cut finger of his ex-wife's lover's son in "The Past."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Past is a film to see, especially if you enjoyed A Separation. Writer/director Asghar Farhadi applies the same winning touch to this even more gripping domestic drama. Sony's Blu-ray combo meets expectations with great picture and sound plus a solid assembly of bonus features.

Buy The Past from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD

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Related Reviews:
New: The Great BeautyAmerican HustleThe Wolf of Wall StreetSaving Mr. BanksThe Iran JobKill Your Darlings
Rust and BoneThe IntouchablesWadjdaOf Gods and MenThe DescendantsWatchtower

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Reviewed March 26, 2014.



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and 2014 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.