When we are talking about actor's and actresse's vehicles, this is what we have in mind. Berenice Bejo certainly did not need any more vehicles for herself, after her triumphant silent worldwide-hit The Artist (2012), but she had to prove than she can be jovial no more; she had to be on the verge of a nervous break-down (sic), incapable to control her sentimental life or her acts, lost in the turmoil of mixed feelings.
A Parisian woman with two kids from two different husbands, expecting the third one from yet another husband-to-be is ready to cut the lose ends with her past. At least, seemingly so. The past keeps dragging her backwards and that's what the film is all about. A mention is needed here to the Kate Winslet incident; it seems appropriate. After some foolish press person of the same sex as Kate criticized the fact that she is expecting her third kid from her third husband, and that each husband was granted only one kid an no more, it's a bit delicate of a matter to comment on the origins of the sperm of anyone's endeavour to posterity. Why should anyone give a damn in the first place. I hope Kate laughed out loud at the article, post-modern as she should be, and went on with her life. I mention the detail for the protagonist just to pin down the pressing chaos, not as a means of moral judgment.
Marie has enough self-esteem not to keep the first guy she bumped into for a lifetime. People change every single day. Ourselves included. What we want now may substantially differ from what talks to us five years later, and if our companion does not change to the same direction, we have to dump him. Oh, well; at least that's how the story goes for the not so sentimental and the brave and the restless. And the perfectionists. In this sense, the Berenice's character is admirable. She has (at least) one faulty aspect, though: she is very sentimental indeed. She insists on bringing her ex-husband in Paris to take care of the final paperwork for their divorce, while she could have easily fixed it without him. She insists on bringing him at her place, instead of a hotel, despite his complains. He later accuses her of spiteful revenge, and maybe he has a point. She then announces her pregnancy, make him sleep in the same room with her new boyfriend's child and have them enjoy breakfast altogether the next morning. And she doesn't even seem to enjoy it. Messy situation, to say the least.
The film describes in a very fluid fashion sentiments, internal conflict, anxiety, passing by thoughts and total frustration. Things happen randomly and out of ill-fated everyday mood. Nothing is planned, less so thought over. Logic is absent and we very dearly miss it.
There are lots of twists for this kind of film -it's supposed to be a family drama, but it looks like a whodunit after a certain point. Which I found a bit wrong (if ever there is wrong and right in art), at least for my need for genre classification and understanding. From a technical point of view, the film shifts from its random comings and goings in the enclosed space of a house under the process of re-decoration -yes, chaos is present in every possible way- to a quest for the truth. Short meetings, questionings, disclosures, massive guilt, even the theme of immigrants working illegally. Too many elements in the mix, something that hinders identification and makes it impossible for the narrative to be taken for reality.
The Past is complex and sometimes slow, with minor rhythm issues, but is enjoyable at least for two reasons: Berenice's stunning beauty and fine acting and the children actors' innocence. Three of them, each one in different age and perception of reality succeed in bringing a breeze of fresh air in the oh-too-problematic adult life.
* The Past (2013) or Le passé is the second film by the acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, nominated for an Academy Award for A Separation (2011). This is his first French-speaking film. Once more, my favorite Algerian beauty Sabrina Ouazani faces the problem of being typecast. Will things ever progress in the film industry?