Another family drama from Farhadi, surgical in its precision as it observes the dynamics and tensions among a splintered family in Paris.
The complexity of the situation here is revealed piecemeal; Marie (Berenice Bejo) meets her ex-husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) at the airport off a flight from Iran, where he has returned to live. We have to infer much from the awkward conversation they have on the drive into the city. She has two daughters – from a previous marriage – but is currently seeing Samir (Tahar Rahim). He and his young son live in her house, but her elder daughter Lucie (Pauline Burnet) seems to hate him. His wife has been in a coma for six months following a suicide attempt, the reasons for which are mysterious - was she depressed or reacting to his infidelity with Marie?
Marie and Samir are expecting a baby, and Ahmad has come to arrange his divorce from Marie so that they can get on with their lives. While staying with the family he acts as a lightning rod for their many conflicts while also counseling various characters and trying to keep out of it all himself.
While the script and scenario are purest soap opera, Farhadi stages it beautifully. His camera never ever draws attention to itself yet misses nothing – every half-glance, every wince, every gesture. And his cast reward that sort of attention, delivering a set of microscopically nuanced performances that make the pain and fragility of the situation depicted dreadfully evident. Bejo in particular is fabulous; stressed, vulnerable yet stubborn, and Rahim wears the hunted look of a man who does not quite know what he is doing or why. The child actors are just as good, giving their scenes an instant pathos which makes it all feel more important and emotional. If it lacks the quiet shock which was a big part of the appeal of Farhadi's last, A Separation, which depicted in detail an aspect of life in Iran which would be new to most Western viewers, it instead focuses on the lives of immigrants in Europe - working, getting by, enduring the same crises as everybody else.
It is a little too long, but the ending is beautiful; enigmatic, guardedly optimistic.