The Past

Asghar Farhadi is a director par excellence when it comes to representing family dynamics from various characters’ different, subjective viewpoints. His critically acclaimed films About Elly (2009) and A Separation (2011) focused on complicated family relations and choices that were shadowed by lies and miscommunication. While these stories were much about Iran through specific thematic concerns at the same time they were extensively universal given their emotional impact, moral questions and easiness to identify with the characters despite any possible socio-cultural differences. His latest film The Past (2013), set in Paris, encompasses the recurrent themes already seen in his Iranian films such as marriage, separation, family dynamics, the concept of truth and miscommunication. Ahmad returns to Paris from his native Iran after his four-year-absence in order to finalise a divorce with his estranged French wife Marie. She, in the meantime, is living with Samir, a dry cleaner owner, and with his young son Found. As later is revealed, she is expecting Samir’s baby. Marie has not booked him a hotel despite his requests. Ahmad finds this situation uncomfortable, however, he is happy to see Marie’s two daughters, teenager Lucie and young Lea. While young Lea is a silent onlooker, and Fouad rebels against the new family configurations, Lucie is giving her mother hard time and finds Marie’s future marriage with Samir nonnegotiable. Once the story starts to evolve it becomes clear that the characters have secrets and the past is not forgotten.

Given the focus on family, interpersonal stories and strong emotions, this article analyses the film as a contemporary melodrama. It examines possible similarities, both thematic and formal, with the classical melodramas of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s but also how The Past differs from them. As in classical melodramas the film dives into family and personal dilemmas and choices. However, unlike classical melodramas that often typically had a single female protagonist, here the dilemmas are highly interpersonal and have an effect on the family as a whole. The Past revolves around the characters’ quandaries caused by their position between two lives, between the past and the present, between two partners, between different concepts of truth and even between physical states dead and alive. A great emphasis will be placed on the setting and how the stylistic choices affect the narrative. While not centring on female sacrifice as classical melodramas, the film will even further be looked in the context of maternal melodrama given that Marie struggles between her role as a mother and a desiring being. Therefore this article tackles concepts such as motherhood versus desire. The film encloses strong emotions and as Farhadi’s oeuvre is characterised by miscommunication or failed communication, the focus will also be how all the powerful emotions are articulated and proclaimed in the film.

As John Mercer and Martin Shingler have pointed out there is no fixed definition within Film Studies what melodrama is. As a consequence, “[T]he term is perhaps best understood as a critical category rather than a fixed unchanging cinematic genre” (2004, p.38). Doane states that while the term has been applied to many different styles and genres, even as opposite as Westerns, generally it is best applied to the 1950s family melodramas (Doane, 1991, p.284). In that decade family melodramas reached the ‘coming-of-age’ (Schatz, 1991, 150). One of the key directors of that golden period, in addition to Minelli and Ray, was Douglas Sirk. Melodramas are often seen in parallel with his films, especially since the 1970 when melodramas were rediscovered by the retrospective look on his oeuvre. As a consequence his films and their narrative and stylistic traits came to epitomise the concept of cinematic melodrama (Mercer & Shingler, citing Gledhill (1987), pp.38-39, 2004). These include, for example, lavish sets, strong, saturated colours, happy endings and a focus on the nuclear family and (small-town) community. However, while melodramas were often considered as escapist, excessive entertainment mainly for women, in the hands of gifted directors the core of these films were the “interrelated family of characters, its repressive small-town milieu, and its preoccupation with America’s sociosexual mores” (Schatz, 1991, p.151).

Therefore, what is interesting about Sirk’s oeuvre, and that of some other implicitly dissident directors of the period, that it was misunderstood by his contemporaries, also by the critics (Mercer & Shingler, 2004, p.51). Despite their conservative, escapist look, his films were highly subversive. As Mercer and Shingler write Sirk self-consciously “used an elaborate filmic style to undermine the inherent conservatism of the scripts that he was given to work with” with the aim to make his films subversive and atypical (2004, p.39). The central idea of Sirk’s films is that they “reveal hidden social tensions” and “symptoms of underlying crisis in postwar American society”, being “rich with ironic subtexts and subversive critiques of bourgeois ideology” (Mercer & Shingler, 2004, p.51). Consequently, 50s melodramas project a highly complex vision instead of their superficial, glossy look and they can even be considered the most ‘anti-American’ films of the studio era (Schatz, 1991, p.151). Thus, as Schatz concludes “the critical response to the movie melodrama covers a wide and contradictory range. Depending upon the source and historical perspective, it is described on one extreme as prosocial pabulum for passive, naïve audiences, and on the other hand as subtle, self-conscious criticism of American values, attitudes and behavior” (1991, p.151).

This idea of melodrama as a cultural text with hidden meanings is interesting in relation to this article. It could be argued that Farhadi’s films are full of uncondemning comments and connotations pointing to moral dilemmas while they also scratch current social issues. As most traditional melodramas, his films are often focusing on domestic sphere and family dynamics but these are also seen in terms of social hierarchies and mores. For example A Separation also tackled Iran’s class hierarchies and About Elly the family honour. In The Past Farhadi analyses the role placements and displacements in an extended family, but there are also subplots such as illegal immigration. As the new, extended family members that disrupt the earlier family hegemony, illegal immigrants can equally be negatively associated with the threat to the traditional (national) family. Taking into consideration the concerns surrounding different family politics Laffly points out that Farhadi’s fascination with the stories about families stems from his conception of those as “prototype of a bigger society” (Laffly, 2013). As Farhadi states “I thought instead of analyzing and depicting a bigger society, I could show the dynamics of a family, which are exactly as the dynamics of a society” (Laffly, 2013).


The film starts at the airport, where Marie has gone to pick up Ahmad arriving from Tehran. She is looking for him, looking worried, but smiles when she finally sees him. From the beginning onwards the stylistic choices punctuate the main themes to come; once Marie and Ahmad see each other they are separated by a glass wall. Farhadi intensifies this separation through the audio. Filmed in shot reverse shots Marie and Ahmad speak but they cannot hear each other. As no words are heard this places the spectator in an inaudible position together with the characters. While this separation points to the blockage existing between them, to their ongoing spatial distance despite still being married, arguably to an even higher extent it points to the miscommunication between the characters that later becomes the key focus and trigger of the events. This is a powerful start and it sets the mood for the ensuing drama where the distance is not so much spatial or physical but cognitive and even metaphysical.

In fact, the characters occupy a very close space together once Ahmad arrives. As most of the story happens in the family house the film highlights home as a locus of tensions, bringing forth familial melodramatic qualities. Marie has not reserved Ahmad a hotel room. While she explains she wasn’t sure if he would come given that he once already cancelled, throughout the film it becomes clear that she may not be completely over him. The past is constantly haunting the characters, intermingling with the present and the house becomes a place of negotiation between these two temporal modalities. Ahmad has to share a room with Fouad, the son of Marie’s new partner while he can still recognise the house as when it was his home. Consequently, The Past is a contemporary melodrama in a sense that the traditional family unit does not exist anymore and the domestic dilemmas are not the same as those in the early, classical melodramas. However, it is important to keep in mind that the focus of the 50s (subversive) melodramas, below the surface, was the transformations happening in the America’s patriarchal and bourgeois order which clearest representation was the nuclear, middle-class family (Schatz, 1991, pp.152-153). In the same way The Past can be seen as a socio-cultural text where the bourgeois family does not exist anymore, in singular at least, but it has been replaced by new, extended family configurations. While Lucie does not accept her mother’s new relation, also Fouad finds it hard to place himself in the new domestic situation. He kicks the door, does not obey Marie as she is not his mother, as Fouad states and his conceptions of home fluctuate. At the beginning of the film he wants to go back home, to his city apartment but when he later moves back there he wants to go back to Marie’s, claiming that to be his home, all this within a short time period. Farhadi’s common preoccupation with marriage and separation has an effect on the family dynamics since both Marie and Salim are still married while they are expecting a baby together. Salim’s comatose wife Celine shadows constantly in the background. She is referred as both dead and alive and as a consequence the distance between her and Salim is more metaphysical. Although in different way, also Ahmad can be seen as lurking in the background, being both absent and present and still having an impact on both Marie and her daughters.


These new family compositions seem to overburden Marie. Although she is not socially subjugated as in classical melodramas that exposed woman’s lack of social power (Doane, 1991, p.286) she is unable to keep the new family together. She is separated from Ahmad spatially despite still being legally married and from Samir on a spiritual level. Moreover she is also facing separation from Lucie. This manifests itself as a psychological, inner separation as Lucie is not telling her anything but the separation is also highly physical as she constantly avoids the family home without telling her whereabouts. Given the weight of the maternal issues that have a further impact on the adult relationships, it is interesting to look at The Past in the context of maternal melodrama. As Doane argues “[M]aternal melodramas are scenarios of separation, of separation and return, or of threatened separation – dramas which play out all the permutations of the mother/child relation (1991, p.286). She continues that these are full of sentimentalism and their aim is to move the spectators through “[T]he plight of the mother with respect to her child, the necessary separations, losses, and humiliations she must suffer” (Doane, 1991, p.299). The maternal melodramas of the 1930s are an especially coherent group structurally as well as stylistically. In these the mother’s position is formulated within the patriarchal society where she must divert her desire to the child while at the same time give that child to the social order, form distance so that the child can enter into the upper social arena (Doane, 1991, pp.286-287). In this quest to child’s social success the mother’s identity must be negated, and she “must be relegated to the status of silent, unseen and suffering support” (Doane, 1991, p.287). Coming to the 1940s maternal becomes a fractured concept and maternal articulations were expressed in many different forms (Doane, 1991, p.290). The maternal possibilities are further polarised; on the one side there is an overcloseness with the child that signals isolationism and on the other the perilous distance between the mother and the child that leads to a neglect of the child, as in case of the working mothers, best exemplified by Mildred Pierce in the film of the same name (Doane, 1991, p.293). However, as Doane has excellently stated “[W]hat the maternal melodramas of the ‘30s and ‘40s demonstrate, almost inadvertently, is that motherhood, far from being the simple locus of comfort and nostalgic pleasure – a position to which a patriarchal culture ceaselessly and somewhat desperately attempts to confine it – is a site of multiple contradictions” (1991, p.293).

In The Past Marie is not silent bystander neither in symbolic nor in literal means and she does not conform to the status of unseen mother. She is loud, she shouts at her children, she is both verbal and physical, as seen her hitting Lucie and locking Fouad behind a door. These acts signal her frustration but also the difficult and contradictory role motherhood is. While the children in the film seem to suffer the consequences of the events, in the same measure Farhadi shows that Marie is equally affected by the situation around her. She is portrayed as extremely stressed that her pacing around and smoking connotes. This is clearly seen when Lucie has not come home at night, she worries over her and smokes despite Salim’s reprimands. In general the film tackles the different angles of motherhood by referring how Fouad’s mother Celine had post-natal depression. While no definite connection is made between that and her suicide attempt, it adds another layer to the concept of motherhood. Marie is represented neither as angelic nor demonic. Farhadi’s realist camera that intensifies Marie’s predicament for example through close-ups and frequent shots of her looking through a window sympathises with her and her longings and therefore prevents her condemnation. In The Past the mother is a complex character and not subservient and existing only for her children.

Decisively, Farhadi shows how Marie is not just a mother but a desiring human being. It could be argued that in The Past the drama is founded how Marie has to stabilise between her children and own desires. This balancing act is arguably one of the key aspects of melodrama. In the 1950s melodramas, as Schatz argues, the strategy generally speaking was “to counter the heroine’s role as mother-domesticator with that of sexual partner” (1991, p.158). Despite her house being full of people Marie seems to be lonely. While in traditional melodramas the main character was usually oppressed by the societal expectations and norms, Marie is trapped that is caused by both external and internal factors. Her selfhood as a sexual desiring woman in addition to motherhood is constrained by her daughter Lucie who obliges her mother to choose between her and Samir through her acts and disappearances. Lucie complains that her mother has already had three relationships since she was born. This comment accentuates Lucie’s wish for a stable nuclear family but also how Marie is denigrated because she is not a self-sacrificing mother. Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955) already represented the tensions between the middle aged protagonist and her children in the wake of her desire to her landscape designer after her husband’s death. However, in addition to the external factors Marie is between her own desires; she is with Samir and wants to live with him but as it is insinuated though her acts and decisions the ghost of the past and the past desires incarnated by Ahmad haunts her. The relationship with Salim is never shown as passionate, hardly even affective. In the car when she puts her hand on top of his, filmed in close-up, he pushes it away. It is these little gestures that tell more than the words that can be deceiving. It can be sensed that the relationship is suffering from the burdening circumstances, as seen when Marie hugs Salim tightly when he is moving out. However, it clearly has been his idea so that Lucie would come back home and as he mentions that to Marie she turns away and continues with the dishes instead of discussing about it with Salim. Her face is not shown, she has turned away from Samir whose expressions are seen instead and does not speak which signals both her unhappiness and anger with the situation. Ahmad’s arrival seems to be the only moment in the film when Marie is smiling, as seen from behind the separating glass wall. She seems to be trapped, both metaphorically as well as spatially. Her house is enclosed by a big gate that is further surrounded by a train track as seen from the high angle shot at the beginning. While this insinuates journey, movement, these barriers also highlight her entrapment in the house where, it seems, no privacy is given and private, constructive conversation must be veered to other locations such as cars and work places.


Given this entrapment, the setting and the formal qualities become a vital denominator in conveying the story and describing the characters. This again beckons to the great melodramas. As Mercer and Shingler have suggested in the oeuvre of the master of melodrama Douglas Sirk “the décor and objects that surround the characters seem overburdened with meaning and significance, everything in the frame means something” (2004, p.54). While not being opulent in colours and bourgeois decor as Sirk’s melodramas were, Farhadi’s stylisation is nonetheless less meticulous. This attention to details in the setting was already visible in A Separation and About Elly. As in classical melodramas, in The Past the quandaries are enhanced by stylistic choices, such as the blocked pipes that could be seen as a metaphor for the unspoken, blocked feelings. In The Past Farhadi chooses a grey, tuned down palette. While it obviously attunes to the sombre and weighty ambient of the film, it also makes it more natural. This natural, realistic feeling is enforced by the lack of non-diegetic music that would enhance emotions. As a consequence the film also differs from traditional opulent melodramas since the term is associated, in its strictest definition, to narratives that combine drama with music (melos) (Schatz, 1991, p.148).

Marie lives in a Parisian suburb. The location could be from any city; it has no reminders of Paris as such that again alludes to the universality of Farhadi’s stories. The house is in a stage of renovation; the walls are half painted, some of the furniture and possessions are covered with transparent plastic, people are sharing rooms. The garden is covered with objects. When Ahmad arrives he notes how Marie is transforming the house from how it used to be when he lived there. Arguably the renovation is seen as a metaphor for Marie’s quest to forget the past, to reconstruct her life and the family. In her interview with the director Erbland notes how the family space, the living spaces in The Past and A Separation “become their own characters” (2013). Farhadi agrees on that stating that

“when you’re making a film about family, the house gets a key role, and I thought that house itself could have a character. In other words, it could be a reflection of the interior of the people who live in it. In this film, all the characters are trying to eradicate their past, eliminate their past, and start something new. The same thing is happening inside the house – they are painting the walls in order to change the atmosphere. The architecture of the house itself is very complex, and it’s like the floor plan of human beings themselves. It’s layered upon layered, and you can’t really make your way through it right away” (Erbland, 2013).

This state ‘in-construction’ of the house, being between past and present also reflects the interior states of the characters. The characters seem to be constantly detached, aloof and the dispersion of the personal items points to this division. While Samir has some of his belongings at Marie’s, Ahmad also has his old luggage in the garage. Consequently, the objects become crucial denominators of the story development. As Elsaesser has argues in melodrama the family house becomes the locus of the story and it is crammed with objects that makes the home increasingly suffocating (Mercer & Shingler, citing Elsaesser (1987), 2004, p. 53). Arguably Samir and Marie try to establish the present tense together by buying new objects to the already cluttered house. The three crystal lights are noisy and fragile, just as they are. Ahmad’s old luggage has pictures of him and Marie when they were still happily together. He cooks a traditional Iranian meal he used to make for the family in the past. While not being a permanent material object in a strict sense his meal acts as a memento on a nurturing level. The objects act as reminders of the past and are holding the characters back. This is seen in Samir’s flat where he is collecting his aftershave and his wife’s perfumes, hoping that these will evoke some memories and consequently reactions in her at the hospital. It could be argued, however, that more than that they are tangible reminders of the past for him. When Samir and Marie are filmed in his apartment, it becomes clear that amidst all the reminders, all the memorabilia of his life with Celine, his life is divided between the two houses, between the two women. Marie clearly feels uncomfortable in this apartment. She does not enter Salim and Celine’s bedroom where he is but stays by the doorpost. She is filmed in a close medium-shot that highlights her discomfort. She recognises Samir’s aftershave that he is taking to the hospital to Celine, the same one he uses with her. This seems to be a reminder of the fact that similar to her, Salim is also torn between the past and present.

The setting, especially the domestic sphere, is full of mirrors. These could be seen as a metaphor for self-reflection and self-contemplation that the characters avoid doing. In relation to the abundance of mirrors in Sirk’s films Mercer and Shingler suggest that the director used these to punctuate how they give the impression of reflecting the person looking into the mirror. However, given the societal expectations and ensuing role playing, the mirror represents the opposite, the deluding self. Thus, in Sirk’s films mirrors “represent both illusion and delusion” (2004, p.54). Although Sirk’s films differ from The Past both thematically as well as stylistically given the time when they were made, here the mirrors can also be seen as highlighting the feelings and actions the characters are hiding and as such are deluding themselves as well as the others. The mirrors ask them to question one’s own stance of the events that are nowhere clear. By not looking into the mirror connotes the inability to be honest for the others as well as for oneself on a symbolic level. This is represented in the scene where Marie is sitting by her beauty table, drying her wet hair. Ahmad enters her bedroom and as Marie has told him to have a sore wrist he starts to brush her hair. While her beauty table has two mirrors she is not looking into them. It could be argued that she avoids literally seeing herself, facing the truth that she still has feelings for Ahmad, as later is insinuated. Even at the beginning of the film she is not looking into the side mirror while reversing that causes her and Ahmad to hit something.

The confinement is further intensified by glass doors, walls and windows that separate the characters. While in their materiality these connote openness and transparency, their function is arguably completely reverse in The Past. It seems that these even further punctuate the lies and secrets in the house that then deepens the psychological detachment. Farhadi often films the characters looking at others from a window or glass door connoting that it is not so much the actual distance between them but the growing estrangement. This is seen for example when Marie and Ahmad enter the car together, seen from Samir’s point of view while he is painting a wall upstairs. The scene underlines his position in the house he is trying to renovate to accommodate him and his son while the previous occupant still has a presence there. Marie watches from a window when Ahmad collects his belongings from the shed that makes his final departure more concrete. In the same way Ahmad is seen through a window when he departs from the house for good. This is filmed in a way giving the first impression that it would be Marie who is looking, as the previous shot shows her facing her back to the camera and looking through a window. However, through a shot-reverse-shot this is shown to be Lucie, her face full of sadness. As it is clear throughout the film, the children are also affected by – and entangled into – the events affecting the new extended family. The last time Ahmad is seen, walking away, he is seen arguably through a window, obscured by leaves and bushes and Farhadi does not reveal to whom – if anyone – this look belongs to. As the director has said in his interview with Calum Marsh the glass between the characters “conveys that they while they can see each other, they cannot know each other. In this way even when there is no glass between the characters, we still feel as if there is something keeping them apart, something that makes them unable to communicate with one another” (Marsh, 2014).


The inability to communicate is also punctuated by the lack of audio in some scenes. As at the airport Ahmad and Marie cannot hear each other through the soundproof glass, Farhadi often places the viewers in an inaudible position. This puts the spectator in the same uncomfortable position the characters occupy where they do not know the intentions and secrets of the others. This is seen for example when Samir goes to talk to Marie at the pharmacist where she works. They are filmed from inside the pharmacist talking outside on the street behind a glass door. No words are heard and this inaudible position is highlighted by the opening of the doors that makes the street noises audible. This scene also points how the conversations and negotiations are taken outside the family home. The house, despite being the key locus of the story, is not a place for constructive conversation. While conversations take place there, it is mostly arguing and there is no privacy as others always hear more than intended. As a consequence, the key conversations happen outside its walls. When Marie wants to talk with Salim he goes to his dry cleaner or his apartment. Ahmad acts as mediator between Marie and Lucie on her requests as she thinks Lucie won’t listen to her. However, their key conversations do not take place at home. Instead, he takes Lucie to a restaurant where the family used to go when he was still around. They converse in the backroom amidst all the clutter that nevertheless seems to be a more convenient place than the home. There is also an uneasy scene where Ahmad and Salim are both sitting in the kitchen. No words are changed. Their downward, wandering looks, the duration of the scene and the medium long shot that highlights the shared space emphasize their mutual discomfort but also the difficulty of spoken words in the domestic sphere. When Lucie runs away the two men share the car in search for her and this is where the emotions are voiced. This limited space requires tight framing that accentuates the tensions between the two men. Samir asks why Ahmad came instead of just sending a lawyer, arguing that there is still something going on between him and Marie. They also talk about Lucie, expressing their feelings and concerns they seem to hide in the house. As already very visible in About Elly, the car becomes a transitional space where that what is unsaid in the house is uttered. It can also, however, serve the reverse purpose as car is an extreme example of a confined space. When shared, this restricted space also amplifies the silence and consequently reveals the interrelationship of the characters. This is clearly visible in the scene where Marie and Salim buy three crystal lamps. In the car, on their way home they don’t talk and the silence is punctuated by the noise of the lamps.

In addition to miscommunication, the film points to general failed human communication. Emails become highly visible in this respect. Ahmad complains that Marie did not tell him that she was in a live-in-relationship. She, on the other hand, insists sending him a message about it. It is also revealed that Lucie forwarded messages between her mother and Salim to his wife. Whether she read them and whether this then caused her attempted suicide two days afterwards is left unanswered. The film accentuates how Lucie cannot talk about it with her mother and finds someone to trust on in Ahmad who is drawn to these domestic complications, becoming a sort of moderator. As Doane argues, in melodrama the conflict is not singular, internal struggle but the drama is “played out within a complex nexus of relationships and the characters’ major activity is that of reading, constantly deciphering the intentions, desires, and weaknesses of other characters” (citing Heilman (1968), 1991, p.285). This quest to read other people becomes essential in the film since the characters’ emotions are not uttered verbally or mediated. In fact, sometimes the objects and implicit actions seem to fill the void, the unsaid, acting as substitutes to the spoken word. Ahmad finds out about Samir’s existence through his passport in his car that Marie is borrowing. Lucie runs away to the restaurant the family used to go when Ahmad was still around, insinuating her quest to return to the past. The weight given to objects to decipher characters, Ahmad’s luggage becomes metaphoric. First the luggage does not arrive and when it is delivered it is broken. It could be seen as a metaphor for emotional baggage, how it is carrying along a heavy load of unresolved issues. Samir is the one who received the luggage, and consequently symbolically he is drawn to this load. As the guy who delivers the luggage assumes Salim to be a painter, an outsider in the house, in the same way he starts to feel like that when Ahmad arrives. Later Lea and Fouad open the luggage without permission, to find what is hidden inside. Although this is a childish act it can be seen as pointing how Ahmad does not reveal anything about himself and his intentions with the family stay unknown for the characters and spectators. As Salim remarks the divorce could have been handled through a lawyer without him coming back.

These failed communications, both verbal and mediated, also beckons how the characters seems to contemplate, even regret, their actions and lies but this happens too late when these have become irreversible. As a consequence, despite temporal differences and not focusing solely on the maternal issues, these bear some structural similarities to classical maternal melodramas. Doane argues that maternal melodramas “obsessively structure themselves around just-missed moments, recognitions which occur “too late”, and blockages of communication which might have been avoided” (Doane, 1991, p.299). While the characters are assessing their actions and choices these happen in retrospective. As the film is told in the present tense, both the characters and spectators alike are left to wonder what really happened and what the truth is within the events. As already in About Elly and A Separation the question of truth becomes vital but also very fluctuating. As Laffly rightly argues “the search for truth and justice” is the common nominator in Farhadi’s films and the director sees the concept of truth as subjective and in constant flux. As the director points out “[W]hat I strongly believe is that the truth is no absolute. It’s very relative” (Laffly, 2013). There are no flashbacks in The Past. In this way everything what the spectator finds out is through aural and gestural means. As these emanate from the characters subjective position the past we are given is a mere collage of memories that may have evolved through time and different feelings involved.

As Doane states “[M]oving narratives manifest an unrelenting linearity which allows the slippage between what is and what should have been to become visible. What the narratives demonstrate above all is the irreversibility of time” (1991, p.300). As this article has tried to argue in The Past this contradiction transparency/concealment is punctuated, and as the title of the film denotes, its consequences have weight on the characters in the present tense. This quest to visibility is highlighted by the transparent and reflective surfaces, however, whether these advance any true self-reflection or self-contemplation is left unanswered. What comes visible, however, is how the characters are unable to let the past go and Marie’s house becomes a symbolic battle field between these two tenses. In spite of the efforts to cover the past, metaphorically through the renovation, it is not working. Samir is allergic to paint that could be connoting to his repudiation to let the past go, and in the same way Marie guards Ahmad’s belongings in her already crowded house. Even the car is full of objects, moved between the two houses, not fully belonging anywhere.

The pursuit to cover the past becomes visible metaphorically through Samir’s efforts to erase the past stains in his work at the dry cleaner. However, he, equal to the other characters cannot get rid of the symbolic stains in his life. The stain on the customer’s dress that led to a fight with Samir and his wife before her suicide attempt is still there, and Celine’s comatose body is covered with mysterious marks. Marie gets furious and punishes Fouad over a spilt paint staining the floor. Ahmad clears Marie’s garden, as if to clean the mess he left behind four years ago. The past being a subjective collage and the stains both personal as well as shared, Farhadi leaves the film open and questions unanswered. As the director notes in his interview with Marsh “I don’t really believe in endings. They are unbelievable to me. The other point is that I don’t want my films to end – I want the audience to take the film home with them once it ends” (2014). It is these stains the characters take home with them and consequently these keep the past entering into the present.


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Laffly, T. (2013, December 19). ‘The Past’ is present: Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi returns with tale of complex romantic triangle. Retrieved 14 August 2014, from Film Journal International

Marsh, C. (2014, January 17). “I don’t really believe in endings”—An Interview with Iranian Director Asghar Farhadi. Retrieved 4 August 2014, from

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