I was asked to stand in for D.D. who usually presents a film at the Lexi for the U3A in Brent. These matinees are screened at 1.30 on the last Wednesday of the month and are open to all. The film scheduled for April was Farhadi’s The Past (2012). I was a bit nervous because I had found the film difficult when I saw it very recently. I did not need to worry. The session was comparatively well attended for a sunny spring afternoon and the audience was made up of a majority of women. Over ten years ago, I introduced this U3A group to the concept of ” film as art”. For a couple of years I guided sessions about the classics: we viewed a film once week and analysed it the next. Since then the group has been attending the Lexi screening assiduously as they appreciate the lack of advertisements and trailers, the level of sound, the fact that there are subtitles when available and the choice of films which as a rule are not the usual popular blockbusters.
For this audience, going to the cinema had been a big feature of their lives in their youth. When the group started we viewed videos of films on a TV set in a school hall, but it was evident that the experience of studying films provided enormous enjoyment. I found the same enthusiasm this week and admit that I have missed the sharing of the magic of cinema with this group of keen viewers.
Although not about old age The Past visiting the present was a theme that was very familiar to the audience. The film lasts 130 mins and there was not a sound or movement in a captivated audience. During the discussion one person remarked that the beginning was a bit too long, but everybody was absorbed throughout. There was a lively exchange of views about the suspense effect of the story , the realism of the direction, the acting, the effect of broken marriages on children, the intricate relationships, the universality of the situation and the lack of closure. On Farhadi’s non judgemental direction – this was demonstrated by two opposing views. Some found that the mother was responsible for the broken relationships while others found that she was unlucky with her men.
The conversation could have gone for very much longer but for time constraints. I remembered my teen age years when cinema-going in Beirut consisted of two different experiences. On the one hand we attended the big screens. There the cheap tickets were in the stalls where melon seeds were consumed by the handfuls. The more refined people and women sat in the balcony seats which were more expensive. We joined happily in the vocal encouragement to the hero in Westerns or felt embarrassed by the whistles at a close-up of women’s legs climbing stairs in dramas (I wish I could remember which film left such a strong visual memory). On the other hand we went to the Art Cinema in a group of students and half the fun was to discuss, dissect the film and share our different points of view for hours.
Rina- Being a fan of Farhadi – I am familiar with all his previous films, which maintain a remarkably consistent level of inspiration – I was very keen to see this film. As you may know, in recent years many distinguished Iranian directors have left their homeland: the Makhmalbaf family, Marjane Satrapi and Bahman Ghobadi, for example. Also many directors, like Farhadi and Kiarostami, appear to find it easier to make films abroad, which has to be bad news for the future of Iranian cinema.
I have to admit that, like you, I was impressed by The Past. Farhadi demonstrated his customary skill in showing the effect of increasingly stressful circumstances on a set of individuals. You could feel the tension throughout, which never lets up, especally during the final stages of the film when the revelations begin to stack up so much that it almost began to appear formulaic, at least to me anyway. There were many themes in this film, too many to list here, but one which I found intriguing was the effect that destiny and in particular, our part in controlling that destiny through decision-making, has on the future. The final scene is changed by a man’s change of heart – he returns to see his wife…… Another example is when Naima is sacked – Samir regrets his hasty decision and attempts to ask her to return – another change of heart, with an effect on destiny.
I have to admit that, while I thought this another fine film(is Farhadi the best Iranian director now, taking over from Kiarostami?), I felt that the final section did feel extended. Overall a reduction in playing time of about 10 minutes might improve the film – or is that going too far?
Thanks for this Tony. I also think that Farhadi shows in his films amazing psychological depth and I feel that only a detailed analysis would reveal all the themes that run through each one of them. For me what struck me in The Past is the treatment of immediate highly charged reactions that need to be apologised for later. Apologies are rare in classical melodramas.
In his interviews Farhadi states that he made this film in France because living there is part of the Iranian experience and he declares that he is optimistic for the future of the Iranian cinema. Can we assume that Ahmad unable to live in France expresses Farhadi’s feeling?