"The Past," Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's first film since his Oscar-winning "A Separation" (2011), might surprise some fans of that tense, Tehran-set drama.
This one is set in France, spoken in French, and while a number of its characters have Persian or Arab roots, ethnicity plays a very minor part and religion none at all in what is essentially a multifaceted marital tragedy.
Ali Mosaffa is the deceptively self-controlled Ahmad, who returns from Iran to France at the request of his soon-to-be ex-wife Marie ("The Artist's" Berenice Bejo) to finalize their divorce. He winds up reluctantly staying in her rambling house where her new lover Samir ("A Prophet's" Tahar Rahim), his troubled little boy and Marie's daughters from a previous marriage have all unpacked steamer trunks of issues.
It's the definition of hothouse drama, and the kind of story in which just about every person has done morally reprehensible things, but only a few are willing to take any blame. Farhadi looks at these people in an open-minded, no-villains-just-flawed-humans way, which is admirable. On the other hand, "The Past's" wide net of culpability can get pretty contrived at times.
Solid acting - Bejo won the best actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival for her role - pulls this sad story along in an engrossing but sometimes wearying manner.
"The Past" is nominated for a Golden Globe for best foreign language film and has been submitted by Iran as its entry for the Oscar race in the same category.