Berenice Bejo has redeemed herself after the dreadful The Artist (2011) in a film where she is not only central to the story but in my opinion carries the film. Bejo plays Marie a woman whose demeanour emphasizes the meaning of stress, a woman who is about to go through her second divorce, She is pregnant again to Samir who shares her house located in a working class suburb of Paris, along with her 16 year old daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) with whom see has no rapport, her youngest daughter Lea and his own rather disturbed son Fouad. Samir’s wife Celine has attempted to commit suicide and now is in a hospital bed in a coma and is not expected to survive. Enter Marie’s second husband Ahmad who she has not seen for four years, invited back to the family home to go through divorce proceedings but while he is there he is expected to solve Marie’s problems: work out why Lucie will not converse with her mother and advice on whether Samir is the right man to become her third husband. Not an easy task under such demanding circumstances.
Asghar Farhadi latest movie, Le Passé (2013) follows the release in Europe of two very successful films, 2009’s About Elly and the much-respected award winning A Separation (2011) up there with the best of recent World Cinema releases and a film against which all his future body of work will be judged.
This week first time host George Geddes, who I must say made a great job of it, introduced Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club screening of Le Passé. George pointed out to an attentive audience that the idea behind the Film Club was to enable film lovers to see good quality movies that were a little different from the popcorn and soft drink variety seen at mainstream theatres and this week’s film was a good example. He went on to tell us that this was the first of Farhadi’s six films to be shot outside of Iran, this time the location was Paris and its suburb of Sevran north east of the capital. (We gratefully avoid the Paris of Woody Allen!) Written by this multi talented director it had to be translated from its native Persian to French. Other than the politics, western audiences are not familiar with Iran, only what we get to see from the heavily censored work of brave directors like Asghar Farhadi. Although our host did point out that America operates its own censorship by not showing films from country’s it does not like!
This ‘gently paced’ sombre movie did appear to be very much appreciated by the RBCFT audience when the movie was discussed after its screening but they were not very forth coming when asked why? But eventually agreed that the acting was very good and that the two younger children (Elyes Aguis and Jeanne Justin) played their roles with extreme professionalism and they were also greatly intrigued by the twists and turns of the story. But our knowledgeable audience did criticise the veracity of the undertitles.
I was not so sure, nothing wrong with the acting as I have said previously Bejo, who won Best Actress at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, was extremely good along with her fellow actors French born Tahar Rahim as the unsmiling Samir, an actor whose face is getting very well-known on the big screen with leading roles in A Prophet (2009), Free Men (2011) and Grand Central (2013), and the Iranian actor and director Ali Mosaffa who takes the part of Ahmad. And I did agree with what one critic opined that this fraught story was like a two-hour episode of the BBC series EastEnders with its microcosm of reallot. Sometimes you can’t always explain why a particular a film does not draw you in and this one certainly did not. Also I could not raise any sympathy for the characters, excluding the children who are always ‘the victims’ in any disenfranchised relationship, who all seemed to be failed human beings in some respect even the ‘too good to be true’ Ahmad whose past misdemeanours were only hinted at. But I believe that from reading various reviews that I am in the minority – still you can’t win them all.
 In a recent interview regarding creative restrictions in Iran Asghar Farhadi commented as follows: “There is a limitation for everybody. Each filmmaker before making his movies has to send their script to have it validated, and then once the film is made you repeat the same process. But then you have this question: why do so many good films come out of the country even though web have this system? When everyone looks at this progress, they are only focused on the power of censorship; they forget the creative power of the filmmakers. There is a permanent struggle between the two: sometimes it’s the censorship that wins, sometimes it’s the filmmakers”