Film Review: The Past

It has always disappointed me slightly that in the UK we have such a snobbish attitude towards language. Whether it’s in sunburnt tourist berating the poor cashier on holiday – Do. You. Speak. English? – or our reluctance, bordering on an almost xenophobic mistrust, towards watching foreign language films and television, it’s such a shame because there is a world outside our little Island that looks at life in its own unique way and can tell a story without cliché, without stereotypes and broaden our ideas and scope on society, life and what it means to be alive. If only we’d learn to accept – Subtitles. Are. Not. Scary.

The film distribution company Artificial Eye are a great source of independent foreign language films, and as I’ve spoken about previously, I love them for the type and style of films they champion and so when I my local independent cinema put on the trailer for The Past (Le Passé) and advertised a one night only showing it was enough to catch me hook, line and sinker and have me there.

Going into the film, I’d seen the trailer and liked it and that, along with a fleeting memory in the back of my mind that it had received positive reviews from my favourite movie podcast, was all I really knew about it. My knowledge of the film was so limited that trying to explain to the ticket seller beforehand what it was about had proved to be a struggle!

However, the film I was treated to was way off-piste from anything I could have imagined or expected. Even based upon the imagery and suggestions within the trailer you’d fall short of the film that you are delivered and treated to. Essentially it’s the tale of how the actions of our past linger to haunt our future’s and how every action has a reaction. Told in essentially 3 parts, clever interlinked, through the eyes of a dysfunctional and broken home the story packs a brutal honest and humility that at times conveys so much power and emotion in the punches it throws at you and the twisting of tale that it becomes almost too much, almost too strong. But this risk, this dicing with the boundaries, is handled with such perfection that the journey it takes you on, the unfolding of story, never leaves you feeling uncomfortable.

All that said, I did find and I’m ashamed in a way to say it, very hard to connect with the characters. I come from a typical rural England happy home, well until recently, and so a home bereft of love and torn apart by abandonment, failure and divorce isn’t a world I really understand. It’s a world I find virtually impossible to place myself into and therefore, I find it very difficult to truly understand the motives and reasonings behind the actions taken by the characters on screen and how these and emotions they evoke spill over and blend into one long, loud, virtually violent argument.

Berenice Bejo - The Past

A big thing about foreign language films for me is that nine times-out-of ten, not being able to natively understand the dialogue heightens the other senses, you actually end up drawing a huge amount more from the unspoken word, you start to see more in the film, the set, the little devices used, hidden, to enhance its message. And this is proven again with The Past. Visually though the film is treat, the colour tone is muted and grey and reinforces the idea of the bleak grim reality in which they find themselves stuck. The use of rain and water in the film is another example, primarily a way of shrinking the world and dividing the characters, whether it’s the pouring rain trapping them inside forced to face each other or the simple act of unblocking a sink creating a break in the recycling of life the film wants to allude to at that point. It’s these little touches you’d miss, the ideas projected purely through imagery, if the answer to the question was “Yes” and not “Oui”.

Berenice Bejo & Ali Mosaffa - The Past

It should be noted very strongly though, that while there are masses in this film to enjoy, and I haven’t even mentioned the acting skills of the main leads – Bérénice Bejo and Ali Mosaffa, let alone the supporting cast, who take an already superb film and place it on another level, there is one serious problem with this film, and I mean serious. It’s pace.

Running time it’s not really a long or short film, clocking in at just over 2 hours, but honestly: it drags and it plods, and it stops for a cigarette as well. It just goes on and on and on, and annoyingly, it goes on and on in a bad way. The story is good, but the longer it trudges along the further away from a natural ending it appears to drift. I never had an idea where the film was going and it was almost like there were too many ideas being interwoven into the story. They wanted to tell too much. It doesn’t help as well that at times you just want to shout “Please just cut and move on”. A shot is held those precious few seconds too long or a scene is played out that feels unnecessary and you wonder why they left it in, why they didn’t cut 30 minutes from the film to increase the rate of movement throughout the film and not leave you looking at you watch between yawns as time drifts closer and closer towards the witching hour?

I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about it as a film, as I’ve said the running time and my inability to really connect with the world in which it is set have left me feeling somewhat withdrawn from it, but visually and emotionally the punches it landed on me have left a mark, it’s just a case that I think my former problems carry more weight than the latter counters. I really don’t know if I’d suggest or recommend it as a film, there are far better foreign language offerings out there, but I did enjoy it.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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