The Past (PG-13) 130 min.) — Although I haven't seen all of this year's foreign language Oscar nominees, it's shocking that Asghar Farhadi's The Past isn't among them. On the surface The Past is similar to his 2011 release, A Separation, which earned Iran's first Academy Award. Both are fine-tuned domestic dramas motivated by divorce and next steps, guilt and collaterally damaged children. The Past is made less political by Farhadi's working in Paris where women live differently, creating a new set of intimacies.
Here, the action is driven by Marie, whose two divorces and a possible third marriage wouldn't fly in Iran. Marie is played by Bérénice Bejo, the sunny, Oscar-nominated ingenue from The Artist, in a turnabout role. Farhadi weaves a complex predicament from Marie's fickle past, with two daughters from her first marriage, her second husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) visiting to complete their divorce, and her new lover Samir (Tahar Rahim) and his son sharing her home.
Samir is married to a woman left comatose after a suicide attempt, whose condition looms over The Past like the Alzheimer's-stricken father in A Separation. What begins as a potential love triangle evolves into a mystery of why Samir's wife tried to kill herself, with Ahmad and Marie's eldest daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), withholding or uncovering clues.
There's plenty of blame and suspicion to exchange, usually shaded with unexpected personal traits, like the nurturing bond Ahmad shares with children who aren't his own, biologically, first Lucie, then Samir's son Fouad (Elyes Aguis). Closer than Marie herself, whose me-first nature is both maddening and pathetic. With The Past, Farhadi again displays a gift for poking into corners of nondescript lives and discovering unique drama.
Shown with English subtitles. A BayWalk 20 in St. Petersburg; Woodlands 20 in Oldsmar).
Steve Persall, Times movie critic