The Past, with Tahar Rahim and Bérénice Bejo, is mired in melodrama.
THE PAST (Asghar Farhadi). 130 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (January 24). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
The Past sees the pleasant soapiness that greased A Separation, Asghar Farhadi's Academy Award winner, reach full, foamy froth. Farhadi's earned his rep via his controlled, tightly plotted kitchen-sink realism. But the Iranian director's mastery of melodrama feels suffocating here, the lavish family tragedy teetering into schmaltz.
Ali Mosaffa plays Ahmad, an Iranian who returns to a Paris suburb to finalize his divorce from his wife (Bérénice Bejo pulling a puffy-eyed 180 from her turn as wide-eyed starlet Peppy Miller in The Artist) so she can marry another man (Tahar Rahim). Ahmad's desire to fix things - upon arrival he immediately repairs a kid's bicycle and seizes on any subsequent chance to roll up his sleeves and play handyman - ends up fissuring his ex-wife's family dynamic, exposing lies on top of lies. Mr. Fixit's nobility is never undermined, his insistence that everyone unburden themselves of their secrets offered as the solution to, and never the cause of, the problems of those around him.
Farhadi may be heavy-handedly rooting for the cathartic power of the truth, but his melodrama is so overwrought and shot through with nasty misogyny (all the female characters feel like caricatures of 19th century Viennese hysterics) that everything about it rings false.