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‘The Past’: Farhadi’s latest handles divorce with dignity

Marie (Berenice Bejo) wants Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) sign divorce papers so she may remarry “The Past.”  |

Marie (Berenice Bejo) wants Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) to sign divorce papers so she may remarry in “The Past.” | SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

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‘THE PAST’ ★★★

Marie Berenice Bejo

Ahmad Ali Mosaffa

Samir Tahar Rahim

Sony Classics presents a film written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 130 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for mature thematic material and brief strong language). Opens Friday at Landmark Century, CineArts 6 in Evanston and Landmark Renaissance Place in Highland Park.

Updated: February 11, 2014 6:05AM

Four years after leaving for Tehran, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to Paris to sign his divorce papers. “The Past” relates this unfinished business for a nuanced melodrama.

Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi creates detailed characters in distinctive circumstances, bypassing script cliches of domestic tension. He treated divorce in his first feature in 2003, as well as in “The Separation,” winner of the Academy Award for best foreign language film in 2012. That film ended with the couple separated by a glass partition in court.

“The Past” opens with Ahmad and Marie (Berenice Bejo from “The Artist”) seeing each other at the airport and separated by another glass wall. The motif of windows blocking contact will recur throughout “The Past,” Iran’s Oscar entry for 2013. Ahmad will revisit various relationships before flying home.

Marie lets Ahmad stay at her home, where her two daughters live. Under the same roof is Samir (Tahar Rahim) and his young son. Marie plans to marry Samir. But his wife is in a coma after attempting suicide eight months earlier. The plot uncovers the cause of this tragedy that affects Marie’s upcoming marriage, not the past of her last marriage.

Farhadi’s restrained style is evident in a final scene where Samir tries to reach his wife. He brings her favorite perfumes to her hospital bed and takes her hand. This affecting close-up offers an ambiguous coda: Is she incapable of signaling her response, or is Farhadi employing a freeze-frame of the couple’s hands? He scrolls the end credits over the nearby white sheets. A few piano notes play, the film’s one sentimental touch.

“The Past” is an understated study of two marriages in transition.

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