The Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (who won an Oscar for A Separation) brings extraordinary powers of observation to this French-set drama about divorce and family betrayal. His style is pared down in the extreme. There is little music here and the camerawork is unobtrusive.
Instead, Farhadi's interest is in the looks and gestures of his protagonists as they struggle to understand each others' motivations and feelings.
The most poignant moments are of kids in doorways looking on in bafflement at the behaviour of their parents or the adults themselves gazing at one another, trying forlornly to work out why everything in their lives seems so unresolved and chaotic.
Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) is an Iranian man who has come back to France to finalise his divorce from Marie (Bérénice Bejo). She is now planning to marry Samir (Tahar Rahim) and is pregnant by him. To complicate matters further, Samir's own wife is in a coma, having tried to commit suicide for reasons that are only very slowly revealed.
Apart from an early scene of a family meal, there is very little joy or humour in The Past. The plotting skirts close to melodrama. Nonetheless, this is an exquisitely made film which probes away at the rawest, most intimate emotions of its characters with a delicacy and insight reminiscent of Krzysztof Kieslowski in his prime.