Asghar Farhadi movies wear disguises. You look at "A Separation," and you look at "The Past," and you see rigidly constructed potboilers. They're melodramas -- gut-twisting, knife-turning, sap-every-possible-ounce-of-emotion-out-of-the-viewer melodramas. (This one features a man returning to his wife -- played with constantly-bubbling-up vulnerability by Berenice Bejo -- so that they can finalize their divorce. Once he arrives, he's beset with a constant stream of familial revelations about his wife, her child, her new lover, her new lover's ex-lover, and so on.)
But these films are also the work of a poet. Farhadi doesn't imbue his feelings into the narrative so much as he does into the visuals; his heart is in the shots of his characters looking back, through windows and doorways, more than it is in the twists and turns of the plot. You have to dig below the disguise -- below the dense, potboiling surfaces -- to find his worldview.
Sony's Blu-ray release of "The Past" excels because it helps us to dig under those dense surfaces. There are only three notable "special features" here, but they all go to great lengths to help us decode Farhadi's allegorical narrative, and to interpret the many provocations layered within his visual style. First off is his commentary over the film itself (he speaks Farsi; it's subtitled), which seems to investigate the film from every possible angle. Farhadi delves into the subtext of the film, the metaphorical aspects of his shot compositions (in short: there's a lot of people looking backwards,) his use of certain colors, and any other aspect of filmmaking you can think of... he stops just short of detailing the catering on the set.
The other two features are equally worthwhile: There's an extensive 30-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, as well as a video of Farhadi answering questions after a screening sponsored by the Director's Guild of America. The featurette delves deeply into Farhadi's process: We see rehearsals, including scenes that were never meant to make it into the movie (he truly seems to be an "actor's director.") The Guild-set interview is comparably illuminating -- speaking through an interpreter, Farhadi offers the directors-in-attendance numerous tips on his process, how we works with actors, how he locks down his shot compositions, and more (the interview runs about 40 minutes.)
Some discs come packed with hours upon hours of special features that never dare to delve below the surface elements of a movie and its production. This release of "The Past" sits on the other end of the spectrum. There are only a few things to watch in addition to the movie, but they're invaluable -- they help you to better comprehend what's going on below the surfaces of Farhadi's works, they help you to see under the mask.
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