"The Past" begins in an airport with the incoming traveler, Ahmad, hunting at the carousel for his baggage and with his picker-upper, Marie, trying to get his attention through thick glass. Glass blocking communication appears two more times in this film about secrets and stories, painfully and slowly revealed.
Ahmad has come to a small French town for his divorce, seduced to town by his wife, whom he'd left for Iran four years before. She wanted him there in person to appear before the judge the next day. She was the mother of two daughters, Lucie and Lea, when Ahmad married her, but when Ahmad arrives at her house, noting all the changes, he finds also a small boy Fouad.
Ahmad begins to realize that Marie is living with another man, Samir, and that Fouad is his son, and they are the reasons she finally wants that divorce. However, Marie asks Ahmad to talk to Lucie, who's become headstrong. He assures her it's normal for teenage girls to try to plow their own paths, but Marie knows that Lucie harbors great anger. Is it simply because her mother is going to marry again? Is it that she has to share a room with her little sister to make room for the small boy? Or is it that her mother had an affair with Samir, who looks like Ahmad, and/or that Samir's wife is in a coma now from a suicide attempt, maybe because of that affair?
On the one hand, the domestic tragedy could just be one more complicated family tale, that these people are more a modern family than the one on television on Wednesday nights. On the other, domestic details that peel away the mystery accrete like a film version of "She'll be comin' 'round the mountain."
Despite the weight of the story, the actors persevere. Bérénice Bejo, so alive in "The Artist," holds Marie together, and her angry scenes are scary. Tahar Rahim, so magnetic in "The Prophet," looks too young to be Samir -- until the end. Ali Mosaffa, made handsome by a wispy toupee, holds the fort as Ahmad, drawn into a family he's divorcing. Pauline Burlet is excellent as Lucie as is Sabrina Ouazani as Samir's employee.
"The Past" was directed by Asghar Farhadi, based on his screenplay. The movie should have been a television series, complete with chapters and cliffhangers; as a movie, it is just too long. Farhadi's "A Separation," is a more wondrous film whereas "The Past" -- "Le Passé" in French -- offers solid soap opera.