Hardly a moment goes by in Asghar Farhadi's The Past when characters don't seem on the verge of collision. At first, it's the physical kind—more than once, someone will take a step into a busy Parisian street and nearly get sideswiped by a moving car. But the film's real tension stems from the clash of conflicting experiences. Each conversation alludes to a knot of unspoken trauma that comes to define even the smallest interaction.
The second that Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arrives in France after spending four years away from his estranged wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo), it's immediately clear that they have a lot of unfinished business. Under some kind of self-imposed exile in Iran, Ahmad has returned to sign their long-standing divorce papers. Greeted by a downpour of rain and a complicated familial situation involving Marie's new beau, Samir (Tahar Rahim), and his young son, Fouad (Elyes Aguis), Ahmad finds himself caught in a cascading wave of melodrama that continuously evolves.
Farhadi's specialty is weaving complex emotional webs within a seemingly simple framework. Familiar circumstances like infidelity and separation are given substantial weight thanks to the deceptively layered dialogue and nuanced performances. One great example of a small sequence taking on added importance comes when Ahmad and Samir meet for the first time, quietly and politely trying to maneuver around each other in Marie's small kitchen.
While a bit too twisty in the end and not as powerful as Farhadi's previous two films, About Elly and A Separation, both of which share similar themes of deception and desperation, The Past—which opens Friday, Jan. 10 at Hillcrest Cinemas—is an expertly crafted examination of how indecision can create a painful ripple effect of doubt. No one is left unscathed.
August: Osage County: A dysfunctional Texas family reunites when its troubled patriarch (Sam Shepard) goes missing, uncovering a barrage of dark secrets and regrets. It’s based on the play by Tracy Letts and stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Chris Cooper.
Beyond Outrage: Japanese director Takeshi Kitano returns to his genre of choice with this bloody Yakuza tale of hardboiled gangsters and corrupt cops battling for control of organized crime in Tokyo. Screens through Jan. 16 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Her: A lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his new operating system (voiced by Scarlet Johansson) in Spike Jonze’s tender and moving sci-fi romance.
The Legend of Hercules: Action director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2: Die Harder) brings the origin story of Hercules (Kellan Lutz) to the big screen in not-so-glorious post-conversion 3-D.
Lone Survivor: Four Navy SEALs are behind enemy lines in the mountains of Afghanistan, fighting an army of Taliban insurgents. It’s based on the failed Operation Red Wings of June 2005 and stars Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster.
The Past: An Iranian man (Tahar Rahim) returns to Paris to finalize his divorce from his French wife (Bérénice Bejo), only to uncover a series of hidden secrets. Master dramatist Asghar Farhadi once again focuses on the devastating ramifications of past trauma.
Reaching for the Moon: Legendary American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) travels to Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s, hoping to cure a case of writer’s block. There, she meets an architect (Glória Pires) and begins a volatile relationship that changes her life. Screens through Jan. 16 at the Ken Cinema.
The Suspect: A Korean intelligence agent (Gong Yoo) is abandoned during a black-ops mission, then discovers his wife and daughter have been kidnapped, setting him on a mission of revenge. Screens at AMC Mission Valley Cinemas.
The Truth About Emanuel: Emanuel (Yaya Scodelario), a volatile young woman with a troubled past, becomes obsessed with her mysterious new neighbor (Jessica Biel), who bears an uncanny resemblance to her dead mother. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
One time only
John Adams: This HBO mini-series examines the life of the second president of the United States (played by Paul Giamatti). Episode 1 screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, Episode 2 on Wednesday, Jan. 15, at the Lemon Grove Library.
The Hangover: Four friends become embroiled in a hilarious series of events after waking up from an epic night of drinking in Las Vegas. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Birth of the Living Dead: Documentary that looks back at George A. Romero’s filmmaking quest to make his seminal film, Night of the Living Dead. Screens at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 10 and 11, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Children of the Stars: This local documentary follows UFO contactees who believe they’ve lived past lives on other planets and create science-fiction films depicting their experiences. Screens at 1:45 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, and at 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Free Fall: A young police officer with a successful career and stable family finds himself falling in love with a new male recruit. It’s accompanied by the short film Squared. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at the Birch North Park Theatre.
The Room: Come for the horrendous acting, terrible script and awkward sex scenes and stay for the collective laughter that will ensue. Screens at midnight on Saturday, Jan. 11, at the Ken Cinema.
Herschel Sizemore: Mandolin in B: Music documentary about bluegrass legend Herschel Sizemore, who was diagnosed with cancer on the same day as his wife. The two hold a benefit concert in Roanoke, Va. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12, and at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Willow Tree: Iranian auteur Majid Majidi is known for his keen attention to emotion, and this story of a blind university professor seeking medical treatment for a fatal disease in France is a perfect example. Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12, at the Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
Cold Souls: An actor working on a Chekhov play finds himself in a metaphysical crisis and decides to have his soul removed and frozen in storage. The surrealist drama stars Emily Watson and David Strathairn. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
Take Me Home: This magical road romance is about a New York City cab driver who decides to take an attractive woman across the country and back to California. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, at the Scripps Ranch Library.
Old School: In an attempt to recapture the debauchery of their college days, three grown friends (Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn) start a new fraternity. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones: A young man (Andrew Jacobs) begins experiencing strange phenomenon before realizing he’s been marked by an evil spirit. It’s the latest entry in the popular found-footage horror series.
Sleeping with the Fishes: Gina Rodriguez and Ana Ortiz star in this rambunctious romantic comedy directed by Nicole Gomez Fisher about two sisters navigating the dynamics of their crazy immediate family. Ends Jan. 9 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
47 Ronin: After their master is killed by a ruthless shogun, a band of samurai set out for revenge. Why they asked Keanu Reeves for help is still a mystery.
Grudge Match: Two aged boxers (Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro) are coaxed back into the ring in order to capitalize on their longtime rivalry. Call us crazy, but we don’t think this film will live up to Rocky or Raging Bull.
Justin Bieber’s Believe: Yep, you read that correctly. Yet another behind-the-scenes documentary about the young pop star who can’t help but find trouble wherever his pompadour lands.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Ben Stiller revamps the 1947 Danny Kaye classic with a bigger budget and a bigger emphasis on the healing power of corporate products.
The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorsese’s sprawling comedic look at the rise and fall of Wall Street huckster Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who became an infamous figure in New York City in the 1990s.
American Hustle: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in David O’Russell’s retelling of the infamous Abscam sting established by the FBI in order to capture corrupt politicians and gangsters in the late 1970s.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: Infamous San Diego newscaster and lothario Ron Burgundy (Will Farrell) brings his motley crew of wacky colleagues to New York City in hopes of making it big on a national television channel.
Inside Llewyn Davis: Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest odyssey is set in 1961 Greenwich Village, where a struggling folk singer (Oscar Isaac) comes to grips with his failure as an artist and a human being.
Saving Mr. Banks: Marry Poppins scribe P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) travels to Los Angeles to discuss a potential film adaptation by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in this whimsical biopic about two artists struggling to compromise.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Bilbo (Martin Freeman), please meet Smaug, fire-breathing dragon and protector of all things gold. Have a nice three hours together.
Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas: Filmmaker Tyler Perry’s wildly popular fictional creation, the titular massive and sassy grandma, wreaks havoc on a small rural town during the holiday season.
The Book Thief: A young girl faced with the horrors of Nazi Germany steals books as an act of defiance and begins sharing them with Jewish refugees. Markus Zusak’s best-selling novel comes to the big screen in this adaptation starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. Ends Jan. 9 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
Nebraska: Aged retiree Woody (Bruce Dern) is determined to collect his winnings after receiving a phony sweepstakes letter, eventually dragging his reluctant son (Will Forte) on a road trip that’ll change both of their lives. Alexander Payne’s latest is a melancholic ode to family and the Midwest.
Philomena: Comedian Steve Coogan takes on a more serious role as a cynical journalist who ends up helping an elderly woman (Judi Dench) search for her long lost son. Oscar nominations are a certainty.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself once again fighting to survive the titular death match that has become a necessary evil in the dystopic future.
Dallas Buyers Club: In 1985, a drunken rodeo clown Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughy) learns he has HIV. Seeing an opportunity to stave off his own death and make some money, he begins smuggling unapproved drugs in from Mexico.
Mysteries of the Unseen World: This amazing documentary uses high-speed and time-lapse photography to focus on things that are either too fast or two slow for the eye to see. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Thor: The Dark World: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) once again brings the hammer down on Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in order to save the human race and sustain the fragile balance of his own kingdom.
12 Years a Slave: Abducted and forced to work on a Southern plantation, free man Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejifor) experiences the horrors of slavery in Steve McQueen’s stirring period-piece drama. Ends Jan. 9 at La Jolla Village Cinemas and the Ken Cinema.
Ender’s Game: Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel about a young pilot fending off an alien threat finally gets adapted for the big screen, surely angering fans everywhere. Harrison Ford co-stars as a growling general.
Last Vegas: A foursome of aging Oscar-winning actors (Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Robert De Niro) play seniors who head to Las Vegas for one final hurrah of debauchery and camaraderie.
Captain Phillips: Based on actual events, this thriller by director Paul Greengrass tells the story of the container ship Maersk Alabama and its leader, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), who was kidnapped by Somali pirates during a voyage in 2009.
Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.