Friday morning saw the first heavyweight contender for the Palme d'Or unveiled, with Asghar Farhadi's follow-up to A Separation playing to a packed house in the Lumiere Theatre. Continuing that film's themes, The Past is another story of divorce, this time in a French setting, as the Tehran-based Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to the suburbs of Paris to sign the end of his marriage to Marie (Bérénice Bejo). At 130 minutes, it was certainly a long haul, but the film received an overwhelmingly positive reception and immediately became a frontrunner for awards glory.
Slightly reminiscent of Guillaume Canet's Little White Lies (a similarity that would have been more obvious had not original star Marion Cotillard dropped out), The Past is an elegantly scripted family drama that plays out almost like a Nordic noir, uncovering details and secrets that hinge on Marie's somewhat chaotic love life. As Ahmad finds out, Marie is about to set up with Samir (Tahar Rahim), a near carbon copy of Ahmad, much to the disgust of her eldest daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet). But Lucie has more on her mind than jealousy, as everyone is soon to find out.
At this stage of Cannes it's still far too early to make grand predictions, but it does seem likely that the film's themes of fractured marriages and families might find favour with jury president Steven Spielberg. Acting, directing and scriptwriting prizes all seem well within its grasp, too, so The Past is extremely unlikely to go home completely unrewarded.
Even if it does, however, this is one of the best domestic dramas to screen in Cannes in many years, telling a story so gripping and involving that it becomes easy to forget that almost literally nothing happens – it is part of the subtle craft of Farhadi's film that the meat of the drama unfolds retroactively, in the mind's eye.