Stuck In The Past 

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The Past
Directed by Asghar Farhadi

Retrocausality is an unproven hypothesis whereupon the future may, under certain circumstances, affect the present and past. But what if there is no future? Inadvertently, that’s what Asghar Farhadi asks in his sixth feature, scrambling pieces of his accomplished, award-winning A Separation—divorcing couple, another troubled relationship, their children—and reconstructing the scene on the outskirts of Paris. But The Past’s dwellers cycle through their crises aimlessly, lacking not only the previous film’s immediacy and threat of incarceration but also momentum in general; this is life and love in aspic.

Ahmad returns to Paris after a four-year absence to grant his estranged wife Marie a divorce so she can marry Samir, whose young son lives with her and two daughters from a previous marriage. Samir, however, is already wed—to a woman whose suicide attempt has left her comatose. Information about these relationships comes to us gradually, necessitating constant revision of all we thought we knew. But somehow this doesn’t even provide intellectual pleasure; the prevailing sensation is inertia.

Farhadi’s cinema is a skillful spectacle for adults: it sounds and looks like life, if only we were slightly more introspective aestheticians. Separated by layers of glass and plastic, his characters live in half-painted houses and feed messy children who exhibit little gratitude. And the past doesn’t imply nostalgia or sentimentality; it’s its inherent inscrutability that keeps Ahmad and Samir—and, despite her struggles, Marie—unable to progress. But this limits Farhadi, too. As usual, his men are rational sadsacks, his women relentless and prone to rage, all pulled into three dimensions by talented actors. They can’t quite reach that fourth dimension, though. The extended shot following Samir down a hospital corridor should be the film’s most harrowing moment—it should freeze the blood. But the blood flows, sluggishly. Farhadi has perhaps done too good a job—by miring his characters, he’s mired the entire movie.

Opens December 20

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