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Director Asghar Farhadi Discusses His New Film: The Past

By Ural Garrett · December 10, 2013

“Based on what standard, pattern or view can we call one’s conduct good and another one’s bad?”

Academy Award winning director Asghar Farhadi asked this profound question during a press Q&A session for his highly praised film The Past (Le Passé). Staring Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim and Ali Mosaffa, Farhadi’s sixth film flips the family melodrama on its head. Set in a contemporary Paris, The Past explores Ahmad (Mosaffa), a man arriving to finalize the divorce with his eventual ex-wife Marie(Bejo). Four years since separating, Marie has began a relationship with dry cleaning business owner Samir (Rahim) and is pregnant with their first child. Meanwhile, children from previous relationships further add tension to an already complicated turn of events. According to the Iranian-native, The Past’s premise came from an unusual place.

“Before making my third film Fireworks Wednesday, I was trying to see a friend of mine and he said ‘oh I’m not going to be around because I’m going out of the country to see my ex-wife’ because they had been separated but they couldn’t formalized the divorce,” explained Farhadi to attendees occupying The Beverly Wilshire Hotel’s champagne room. “Nothing awful or terrible happened to my friend. He went peacefully and formalized their divorce but in the story things happen differently.”

Though a fictional story, the drama manages to feel extremely realistic; something Farhadi hoped would engage viewers. That meant creating flawed, human roles. Farhadi said himself that all his career he never recalled writing a “negative character” for screenplays. Continuing with The Past, his goal was to deliver context for every role so viewers could see themselves in the character’s situations. “That’s because in the film, we see the reasons for their errors and we feel that if we were in their position, we might have made the same mistakes,” Farhadi said. “Their negative actions and mistakes don’t stem from a negative nature. It’s the conditions of their environment that forces them onto a path that perhaps they themselves don’t want to walk.” Interestingly enough, he doesn’t mind if moviegoers offer emotionally skewed opinions on any character.

Complimenting the grounded screenplay is stripping of Paris’s touristic appeal for the city’s suburb. Farhadi said that he looked beyond his fascination with the historic architecture or taking it “for granted” purposefully. “The pitfall for filmmakers working in an unknown setting is to highlight in the film the first thing that catch their eye,” vocalized Farhadi. “I tried to do the opposite.” That also lends itself to The Past’s sonic approach. Lacking a soundtrack until nearly the end-credits (something Farhadi has done since Fireworks Wednesday), he says usage of music wasn’t required for drawing viewers in. “Most films in conventional cinema when they use music, they in a way want to insinuate the emotions; something I don’t require” declared Farhadi.

The Past has already earned rave reviews since making its debut at Cannes this year, even earning Bejo a best actress award at the festival. Farhadi’s follow-up to 2011’s Oscar winning A Separation, The Past was selected as the Iranian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, not without controversy however. The Past’s financial backing and language used is French, causing a rift in the Iranian film community regarding the film’s representation of the country during the coveted ceremony. In response, Farhadi explained,“I feel that putting aside the fact that the cinematographer, sound person, director, writer, main character, secondary character are Iranian, there’s even an Iranian gaze,” said Farhadi. “I’m very pleased that the film was presented from my own country.”

The Past is scheduled for release on December 20, 2013.