There are times when you watch a film that you don’t find enjoyable but you know deep down that it is well made and all criticisms are totally linked to your own taste and are probably influenced by the mood you are in when watching it. What one thinks and feels today is more than likely to be different tomorrow or next week.
Upon the first viewing of Michael Mann’s Heat I wasn’t impressed, the amount of anticipation about the De Niro/Pacino scene was heavy with the weight of expectancy and consequently this viewer was always going to be disappointed. A dear friend of mine persuaded me to rewatch it and now it ranks as a film I love and have seen it several times since and enjoyed it more each time. I wonder if I revisit The Past in ten years time will it have a much deeper impact. It has already won a number of awards and is deemed a critical success.
Ahmad (Ali Mostaffa) returns from Iran to finalise his divorce to his French wife Marie (Berenice Bejo), who is now living with her new lover Samir (Tahar Rahim). His arrival sets off a chain of emotional events all linked to their shared past. It brings to mind the experience of watching the Romanian film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, another film lauded with critical acclaim that was the opposite of entertaining or accessible. All films don’t have to be entertaining yet some still retain artistic merit. The Past is nowhere near as gruelling as 4 Months but was still a chore nevertheless.
The acting is brilliant all round; Bejo, the best thing about The Artist, Rahim, utterly captivating in Un Prophete, and Ali Mostaffa all deliver excellent performances filled with depth and truth but it is hard to get on board emotionally when the way the story is told is so downbeat and lacking levity. The director, Asghar Farhad is clearly a talented film-maker who knows how to put his vision on the screen and his films have and will gain plaudits. I have yet to see A Separation but my desire has waned since seeing The Past. The slow pace is certainly a conscious choice on the part of the director and will definitely work for some people, definitely not the mass market; as a film, it maybe worthy of awards but my experience was one of dis-connectedness.
Recently, I watched Blue Ruin, another brilliantly acted film that wasn’t very enjoyable but was also critically acclaimed. Each of us has our own tastes and preferences, usually moulded by our environment and our previous experience. Great; this is what makes us different and consequently, interesting and intriguing to each other. Both The Past and Blue Ruin have their place and deservedly so, it’s great that they have been made and for sure people will have been moved by them.
Unfortunately, this viewer was not one.