Tag Archives: Paris

After A Separation, the divorce: Asghar Farhadi’s sort-of-sequel, The Past

3 Apr


I’ve just seen my first great movie of the year*. It’s not flashy. It’s not ground-breaking. But it is very, very well observed, richly acted (including a terrific performance from a young boy, always hard to achieve), and just absolutely bloody brilliantly written.

The film is The Past, and it’s the first that Asghar Farhadi has shot outside of Iran. Farhadi is one of the rare Iranian film-makers who have managed to make films of artistic worth without falling foul of the authorities. “The restrictions and censorship in Iran are a bit like the British weather,” Farhadi said philosophically after A Separation won best film at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, on the way to winning the 2012 best foreign film Oscar. “One day it’s sunny, the next day it’s raining. You just have to hope you walk out into the sunshine.”

Friends of Farhadi’s, however, have failed to pack their umbrellas. Jafar Panahi was imprisoned and banned from making films for 20 years, though he defiantly smuggled out a semi-documentary on his incarceration, teasingly entitled This Is Not A Film, on a USB stick hidden in a cake.

Farhadi originally expressed solidarity with his colleague. When the regime then withdrew permission to film A Separation in 2010, he apologised in order to get the film back on track.  As Time magazine noted when it named Farhadi one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, Farhadi’s success at home could seem an act of “craven collaboration”. But, it went on, “exile or imprisonment is not a filmmaker’s only badge of honour. Another is speaking prickly truth in pictures, for all the world to see.”

Anyone hoping that filming in Paris would liberate Farhadi to speak his mind about the regime will be disappointed by The Past. Lovers of cinema  will not. In the loosest possible sense, it’s a sequel to his Oscar-winner, in that it deals with the aftermath of a separation. An Iranian man returns to Paris five years on to sign the divorce papers so that his ex-wife (played by Bérénice Bejo from The Artist) can be with the new man in her life. But has she really let go of the old?

What starts as an acutely observed relationship drama becomes almost like a thriller in the second half, piling on revelation after revelation concerning an attempted suicide, twisting round tighter and tighter like a tourniquet over a wound…

To reveal too much would spoil your enjoyment. I loved it. Go.

* I would include 12 Years A Slave, but I saw that last year.

Journey into the art of darkness with David Lynch

24 Jan


David Lynch’s exhibition of black and white photos at London’s Photographers’ Gallery is typically unsettling. Seen individually, each is a banal portrait of a post-industrial setting: a factory in Łódź, or a set of chimneys in Britain. But cumulatively, and particularly knowing Lynch’s films, they force you to start constructing a narrative in your head, to disturbing effect.

Smoke. Brick. Steel. Pylons. Peeling paint. Broken windows. Shadowy, inexplicable doorways, behind which you can’t help intuit a brooding presence. Snaking pipework – what gas or fluids do they carry? A wall of windows, some lit, some not, forming a geometric mosaic like a black-and-white Mondrian.

But the most striking picture of all, given all those that have gone before, is this one (below). We have had a succession of claustrophobic warehouse or factory interiors, all disused – abandoned after a radiation leak, perhaps; or one-time scenes of inexplicable workforce deaths; or currently used for the occasional kidnap, torture and murder. This is the only window on to the outside world in the whole exhibition, and it focuses directly on a single house.


It’s hard not to feel like a deranged stalker looking out on a prospective victim. The perspective makes Father Dougals of us all — the house seems not so much far away, as very, very small. A dolls’ house whose inhabitants are of as little consequence, and there purely for the viewer’s sport.

Or is that just me?

I saw an exhibition of Lynch’s paintings in at the Galerie Piltzer in Paris in 1997. Again, they were individually unremarkable, until you realised that, cumulatively, they created a record of a crime scene.

Or was that just me?

Humans are meaning-creating creatures, the film guru Chris Jones has said. In other words, you don’t have to spell everything out for the audience when you make a film; the viewer will work hard to supply meaning to a scene in which little is said.

It works for David Lynch’s films, just as it works for his photography and paintings. Starting tomorrow, I will serialise my 1997 interview with Lynch, conducted for Time Out on the release of one of his most obscure and unsettling films, Lost Highway. Y’all come back now, y’hear?