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The Past (Blu-ray Review)

the past whysoblu thumbOne of the best things about The Past, writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s follow up film to 2011’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, A Separation, is that it makes me want to see all of Farhadi’s previous films.  Once again working with a fairly straight-forward, reality-based premise as the subject for a drama, Farhadi is certainly proving to be one of the best voices in film, when it comes to examining familial relationships.  What makes this impressive is how gripping I have found his films to be, despite being incredibly limited as far as any sort of flashiness is concerned.  With The Past, there are no broad characters, the film has almost no music or score whatsoever, and the film’s stakes are entirely personal to the specific people involved.  Still, The Past was another standout from 2013, complete with a fine Blu-ray presentation.

Film: 

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The story is focused on old and new relationships, revolving mainly around a French woman and her children.  Ali Mosaffa stars as Ahmad, an Iranian man who has returned to France from his homeland to officially divorce his ex, Marie (Berenice Bejo).  Marie has two daughters from a previous relationship and is on the way to having a son as well, as she is currently in a relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim), the father of a young boy from his previous marriage.  Ahmad does what he can to be helpful with his limited time back with his former family, but is brought into the drama involving Marie’s relationships with her eldest daughter and with Samir.

There are various complications that emerge throughout The Past, but what I found interesting was the way in which it subtly switches focus between protagonists over the course of the film.  This is not a film about rooting for one character over another.  It is more about learning who these people are and seeing how they try to resolve their various situations.  As the film both juggles the different plotlines that emerge out of one, while also shifting said focus, The Past finds great ways to reveal more and more information, while not over-complicating the story form the audience’s perspective.  Despite the histories that each character has, the reveals involved always feel natural and never do a disservice to the story being told or feel like an easy way out of explaining away things.

This careful balance of the story is one of The Past’s biggest strengths and the main reason I am so curious about Farhadi’s previous work.  Sure, a great story and efficiently written screenplay may be satisfying on the page, but Farhadi seems to make it all look so effortless.  Not many filmmakers have the ability to make seemingly normal life be so enthralling on screen.  The argument can be made that I being an American could allow for a different sense of what I am viewing, based on seeing life occur in a foreign environment, but I do not think that is it.  There is skill in making basic conversations work anywhere and anyway, which includes all of the things that characters do not say to each other as well, which brings me to the performances.

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The cast in this film is great.  Mosaffa, Bejo, and Rahim are all wonderful on screen and make these relationships seem incredibly authentic.  Mosaffa and Bejo act like people that did clearly once enjoy each other, only to find themselves always getting into arguments.  Rahim has a tricky job of being the character we learn more and more about, as the film goes on, which forces us to not have an entirely clear opinion of him, until over halfway into the film.  Regardless, he does a great job as well, given his interactions with the different characters, given the context of where he is coming from, and the different pieces of information that these various characters have.  Given that the film ends in a way that is not at all where one would expect it to go, it is a great credit to this cast that I could buy into supporting each one of them, without wanting any of them to win over the other.

Another interesting note is the backdrop involved in this film.  While A Separation brought the Iranian judicial system and religious practices into play, The Past is largely free of having anything outside the realm of regular human drama be a factor.  There are particular plot details that make a certain difference, but this is a film focused on the actions of characters, based on who they are, not based around where they come from or what they believe.  It is not really a point that makes one film better than the other, but given that The Past is so closely matched as a follow up to A Separation, it is worth noting that the films have some key differences as well.

A Separation was a film I saw because of the acclaim it was receiving.  The Past is a film I saw because of my admiration for the man behind that film.  I have enjoyed seeing both a great deal and certainly recommend The Past, which is currently in a limited number of theaters.  The story is something out of everyday life, but incredibly absorbing; the performances are all very strong; and Farhadi’s work as a director is truly something special, given that he has found a way to make it all look so natural.  I look forward to seeing what he delivers in the future, just as much as I look forward to seeing the films from his past.

Video:

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Encoding:  MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution:  1080p

Aspect Ratio:  1.85:1

Clarity/DetailThe Past makes this kind of filmmaking look simple in terms of camera placement, settings, and other aesthetic elements, but with that said, the film is very creatively filmed as far as domestic dramas go and this Blu-ray does a great job representing that.  The disc does fine work with the different rooms and buildings all having their own look, with the details within all of them looking about as clear as they can.

Depth:  The scope may seem small, but the characters and objects all register as 3 dimensional, which is something that extends beyond fine writing.

Black Levels:  It can be a moody film and as such, there are scenes set in darker environments, which has well done black levels to convey these portions of the film.

Color Reproduction:  There are instances of real pop in the color palette of this film, but for the most part, it is a fairly muted affair.  Still a very good-looking one, as the colors register nicely throughout.

Flesh Tones:  Characters in this film all look very good in terms of flesh textures and the way the light bounces off of them compared to the quality of this video transfer.

Noise/Artifacts:  Nothing to really speak of.

 

Audio:

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Audio Format(s):  French (PAR) 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles:  English, English SDH

Dynamics:  This is a film that has almost no score whatsoever and is entirely dependent on dialogue and some ambient noises, as far as sound is concerned.  That said, there is nothing to really complain about, as it is all quite clear and balanced.

Low Frequency Extension:  Not a big factor here, but the soundtrack supports moments where bass is appropriately incorporated into the audio track.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Again, being dialogue-focused, the film’s Blu-ray does a fine job of balancing this aspect for a home theater setup.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Clear as day; and in French!

 

Extras:

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One does not necessarily expect a whole lot of extra features for a film like The Past, so I am quite pleased with what is available on this release, given that you learn practically everything you would have wanted to in regards to this film, even though there are only three extra features total.

Features Include:

  • Commentary with Asghar Farhadi – While Farhadi does not speak English or French, his Iranian tongue provide plenty of insight into this film.
  • Making The Past – A half hour well spent on providing a look at the production design and a good time to hear from the actors involved as well.
  • Directors Guild of America Q&A with Asghar Farhadi – Another good way to get plenty of insight about Farhadi’s process in general.
  • Trailers
  • DVD Copy of the Film

Summary:

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The Past was a fantastic film from 2013 that did not get enough traction to bring more attention to it, but it should be seen regardless for anyone that wants to experience a really solid drama.  The Blu-ray presentation is very good, as the audio and video presentation do the film more than enough justice and the extras only add to the experience.  This is great filmmaking serviced right.

Order Your Copy Here:

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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