Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman filed the following review for NY1 of the dark new family drama "The Past," which made his top 10 list of 2013.
As he proved in his riveting 2011 drama "A Separation," the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has found a highly original way to infuse a tale of domestic turmoil with the tension of a thriller. His new movie, "The Past," is hugely ambitious, yet it's also a wrenchingly intimate story of lives torn apart by forces within, and without them.
Bérénice Bejo, the Argentinean-born actress best known as the silent-movie flapper in "The Artist," gives a tender, angry, implosive performance as Marie, a Frenchwoman living in a run-down Paris suburb. Her estranged Iranian husband, played by Ali Mosaffa, has arrived so the two can get their divorce, and they're friendly for about five minutes before their old fights begin to flare.
Like "A Separation," "The Past" presents what looks, at first, like an easily readable situation, but as it's shaded in with the revelation of the history that's led up to it, the reality shifts. Marie has two children with other men, and a third father figure enters the picture: a somewhat younger lover dealing with an intense domestic trauma of his own. He's played by Tahar Rahim with the air of a colder Antonio Banderas.
The way the plot of "The Past" keeps churning, turning, revealing new angles makes it seem, at times, like one of those Babel-style Rubik's Cube narratives, only instead of hopping around the globe, Farhadi unfolds his drama in about seven rooms. The question of whether e-mails from an adulterous affair were secretly forwarded, and, if so, received, and, if so, what the consequences were here, takes on the quality of a CIA op gone wrong. In the magnificent and haunting final scene, a character we never expected to hear from sheds a single tear, and she seems to be crying for all of us who are channeling the past through the present, more than we could ever control or even know.