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The Past is the latest feature from heralded Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi. After making its world premiere at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, this critically praised drama hit fests all around the world. At long last Sony Pictures Classics is bringing it to theaters in the US this Christmas.
Bérénice Bejo stars as a woman whose past and present collide as she asks her estranged husband to visit her in France to finalize their divorce. Years before he'd left her and his two children to return to his homeland of Iran, but now, seeing the life she's built without him--which includes a new man eager to take his place--her husband is forced to face what remains of the bond he once turned his back on.
The trailer above while elegant may not fully explain why The Past is a film worth getting giddy over. To fully understand this, I will have to take you back to Oscar night 2012. There and then two foreign films were big winners in the American award show. One was of course, the French film about old Hollywood The Artist, which took home five honors that night including Best Picture. The other was heartbreaking drama out of Iran called A Separation.
A Separation was Farhadi's last film, which told the stories of two families--one moderately wealthy, the other impoverished--in modern Iran struggling within cultural confines to do what's right in desperate situations. It was my #1 pick for the best film of the year, hands down, and I wasn't alone in my admiration. The devastating and thought-provoking drama won awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, including honors for Farhadi as well as each of its four lead performers. It went on to pick up awards all over the world, including the Academy Award for best Foreign Language film. It was the first Iranian film to ever win this title. Farhadi's acceptance speech that night ( which you can watch here ) was graceful, warm and inspiring, calling for understanding across cultural differences.
But in the aftermath, the government of Iran used the win as a political football. From there, their opinion on Farhadi's work seemed to shift from pride to suspicion, and he set off to France to make his next feature, free from censorship and possible punishment. Early on Academy Award-winning leading lady Marion Cotillard was attached to front The Past, but by the time the film surfaced at festivals, it was The Artist's Bejo who had filled the role. And from the praise in the above trailer, it appears this Academy Award nominee was an exceptional replacement.
My incredibly high opinion of Farhadi as a filmmaker has made The Past one of my most anticipated titles of the year. And frankly, the obstacles of creating art in Iran makes its completion alone a reason to celebrate. It's easy in America to take for granted the ability to say whatever you want, but Farhadi, who holds a deep love of his country and its rich culture, has had to tell his stories with one eye on what would be deemed dangerous. Still, A Separation was brave, risky, and a fascinating filmmaking, and I can't wait to see what The Past holds.
The Past opens on December 20th.