Let it be said what tears people, relationships, apart most of the time are not the things said in anger…
Further evidence as to why I don’t do best of lists right at the end of December. Director Asgahr Farhadi knows how to build evolving and involving dramas centered around the desolation of family and the effects thereof. Exhibited with his oscar winning A Separation a few years ago and now with another emotionally charged melodrama The Past. Both dealing with complicated divorces bringing up latent emotions of spite, guilt and regret, but here with his latest he adds cross-cultural divides to the proceedings. Bérénice Bejo, completely reinventing herself from The Artist, plays Marie, a beleaguered, frustrated and angry french woman caught between moving forward and the ties to her past.
She requests that her husband Ahmad, played with concealed torment by A Separation’s Ali Mosaffa, return from Iran after two years away to officially end their turbulent marriage. Ahmad wanting to move on with his life accepts but what Ahmad finds when he arrives is a house of cards. Marie’s kids from previous marriages are moody and full of angst, she hardly has the time and patience to look after them, she is seeing a younger Iranian man Samir (played with subdued frustration by A Prophet’s Tahar Ramin) and has taken Samir’s son in as one of her own.
Suffice to say things are complicated with this family. Marie’s kids, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), Lea (Jasmine Jestin), and Fouad (Elyes Aguis) all feel the pain of their mother’s break-ups in different ways. Lucie is the oldest and detaches herself from the family, Lea is the middle child and is blissfully unaware of the problems surrounding her, and Fouad as the youngest acts out when ever he can at his new mom. All showing how parent’s relationships ripple around and affect everyone around them, especially their children.
Bérénice Bejo is the one in the driver’s seat on this one, leading the audience through these emotionally charged character studies. Marie is an absolute wreck after being left by two men she loved dearly. She lashes out, cries and walls herself up. However, she provides the connective tissue between the families and for every other character to respond to; some want to console her, others want to hate her, or love her, or even try to understand her. She means many things to different people; she radiates affection and warmth just as much to Samir as she does abrasiveness and coldness to Ahmad.
Newton’s third law in physics states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Pertaining to the way objects behave, but people are no different. There is cause and effect at work: for every action taken by one of the characters there is a consequence, sometimes indirectly affecting people they don’t even know. By the perfectly staged end scene we are left with an affecting and poignant portrait of a family dynamic, its breaking apart and the repercussions felt afterwards. All conveyed in quiet subtle tones and moments.
All the more reinforcing the theme of that which tears people, relationships, apart most of the time are not the things said in anger, but what is left unsaid.