Think of the best performances from the past 20 years.
OK, make it a little easier on yourself. Think of the Academy Awards from recent years: Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, Nicole Kidman as Virginia Wolff in The Hours, or Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. Roles that pop usually have a big character twist, anything from a period friendly dialect to full body makeover to a life or death problem on their plate. "Normality" is rarely praised and rewarded when it comes to acting, simply because it doesn't pop. That's why the Cannes Film Festival debut The Past is downright revelatory: it's people acting like people while chewing up scenery Day-Lewis style.
Director Asghar Farhadi, who won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for 2011's A Separation, shifts his lens from Iran to Paris for Le passé to examine a deteriorating family. Academy Award-nominated actress Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) plays Marie, who we first see picking up her soon-to-be ex-husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) from the airport so their divorce can finally be settled. Farhadi introduces us to the fissuring couple from behind a pane of glass that blocks out the sound — a choice made several times during the film. The motif hones our attention in on the physical performances of Farhadi's ensemble while speaking to the issues that slowly percolate throughout The Past. As Ahmad settles in for a few days with his former family, he digs up secrets that everyone thought were better left unsaid.
In a challenging move, Farhadi takes most of the usual exposition and setup and unrolls it over the course of the film. Turns out Ahmad and Marie's tense relationship is only the beginning. Marie's boyfriend Samir (Tahar Rahim of A Prophet) has a heap of his own issues, putting the responsibility of caring for his son on her shoulders. As Ahmad witnesses, the boy requires attention Marie doesn't have. Her dwindling relationship with older daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), is strained as it is. With every scene, The Past complicates the scenario. To reveal the twists would only unknot Farhadi's breathtaking execution.
The Past doesn't play M. Night Shyamalan games. instead, the reveals are fuel for naturalistic drama. To allow the acting to breathe, Farhadi stages his action in a theatrical fashion. One or two angles suffice when Bejo rages out against her surrogate son and Mosaffa calms a downward spiraling Burlet. Having been introduced to Americans in a silent era throwback, Bejo proves herself a starlet to contend with one devastating moment after another. In contrast, Mosaffa remains collected while being haunted by the past. Farhadi has a musician's ear for dialogue. Out of his actors' mouths the words are rhythmic and provocative, the young Burlet acting as the film's soft soprano. She's simply stunning, and yet the polar opposite of any of the aforementioned "best" performances.
Oscar talk is a component of Cannes and The Past is certainly a contender for year-end awards. But while the cast is deserving, Farhadi's latest may be limited to foreign and writing categories. Despite the fury of dramatic wordplay and understated work across the board, this is not a collection of Daniel Day-Lewis-style performances. No broad characterizations, no identifiable mimicking, no showy explosions. It may not be a fit for the Academy Awards, but over the thrilling two hours of The Past, they're everything that makes "the best."
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]
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The movie, which won the best foreign film prize at the recent British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, took the top honours at the ceremony in France, including Best Film, Best Actor for Tahar Rahim and Best Director for Jacques Audiard.
A Prophet also claimed awards for Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for Niels Arestrup and Best Cinematography among others. Rahim was also named Most Promising Male Newcomer.
Veteran French star Isabelle Adjani won the Best Actress accolade for school drama Skirt Day, while Emmanuelle Devos was named Best Supporting Actress for At the Beginning.
Clint Eastwood's Grand Torino won the Cesar for Best Foreign Film.
The film leads categories including Best Picture and Best Director, for Jacques Audiard, as well as garnering nods for its star Tahar Rahim, who is up for Best Actor and Best Newcomer.
Philippe Lioret's immigrant drama Welcome scored nine nominations and will go up against A Prophet in the Best Picture category, and Vincent Lindon will compete with Rahim for the Best Actor prize.
Fashion biopic Coco Before Chanel also received five nods, with Audrey Tautou named in the Best Actress category.
The nominations for Best Foreign Film include James Cameron's Avatar, Milk, Gran Torino and Slumdog Millionaire.
The 35th Cesar Awards will take place on 27 February (10).
The actresses have made the shortlist for the prestigious honour, the only BAFTA voted for by the public, which recognises new young talent.
Stewart and An Education star Mulligan are nominated alongside Brit actor Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man), Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland) and French actor Tahar Rahim (A Prophet).
The award will be handed out at the BAFTAs ceremony in London on 21 February (10).
Previous recipients of the Orange Rising Star prize include The Last King of Scotland actor James McAvoy, Bond girl Eva Green, and Transformers star Shia LaBeouf, who is reportedly dating Mulligan.
The British actress won a prestigious Academy Award for her turn as a former concentration camp guard in the 2008 drama, as well as picking up prizes at the Golden Globes, the BAFTA Awards and the Screen Actors Guild.
Winslet can now add a European Film Award to her impressive collection - she picked up the coveted Best Actress prize at the ceremony in Bochum, Germany.
German drama The White Ribbon was the big winner at the show, scooping three major prizes including Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenwriter. The film previously won the prestigious Palme d'Or at this year's (09) Cannes International Film Festival in France.
French actor Tahar Rahim picked up the Best Actor honour for his star turn in A Prophet, while Oscar-winning picture Slumdog Millionaire triumphed in the People's Choice category.
British director Ken Loach was honoured with a lifetime achievement award.
The actress, who sat on the 2009 jury alongside singer Jarvis Cocker, handed the Star of London prize to lead actor Tahar Rahim, who plays a young man in a crime-ridden prison, at the festival's closing ceremony in the British capital.
Huston hailed the drama as "a masterpiece (with) the ambition, purity of vision and clarity of purpose to make it an instant classic".
Meanwhile 69-year-old British actor John Hurt was honoured with a lifetime achievement award known as the British Film Institute Fellowship.
The star says, "For me, the BFI is the heart of British cinema. I consider it the highest honour possible to be awarded a Fellowship."
The 53rd London Film Festival closes on Thursday (29Oct09) with a screening of Nowhere Boy, artist Sam Taylor-Wood's film about Beatles legend John Lennon.