CANNES – As a rule, Sony Pictures Classics tends to make the first big acquisitions strike at the Cannes Film Festival: last year, they moved quickly when Chilean sensation “No” started getting sidebar buzz (and steered it all the way to an Oscar nomination.
This year, their first big buy is a film that was already a hot prospect before the festival started: Asghar Farhadi’s “The Past.” The Iranian director’s French-produced follow-up to the Oscar-winning “A Separation” premiered on Friday (which already feels an age ago in festival time) to generally glowing reviews — including my own, in which I called it “an intricately knotted, almost exhaustingly even-handed examination of tensions and untruths in a trio of marriages … further showcas[ing] Farhadi’s dexterity as a dramatist of uncommon perspicacity and fairness.”
It’s hardly surprising that Sony have taken it on, and not only because the film, in terms of its status and audience appeal, is a perfect it for them. The company also picked up “A Separation” after it stormed the Berlinale in 2011 with far less advance fanfare and turned it into a significant arthouse success, winning the foreign-language Oscar and scoring an additional nomination for Farhadi’s screenplay. With the new film being taken similarly seriously by critics — and, unlike “A Separation,” featuring recognizable names in stars Tahar Rahim and Oscar nominee Bérénice Bejo — there was no reason for SPC not to maintain its relationship with the director.
No release date has been announced yet, though it’s worth bearing in mind that “A Separation” bowed at the very end of the year in the States. Of course, that was with the film established as a legitimate Oscar player, having been selected as Iran’s official submission in the race.
The awards future for “The Past” is a little hazier. It’s unlikely to feature in the Best Foreign Language Film race: Farhadi’s home country can’t submit a non-Iranian production, while France (which invariably has a wealth of major arthouse titles to choose from) tends to select films by native directors. If critical buzz continues to build in its favor, Sony could feasibly campaign the film in other categories, angling for another writing nod for Farhadi, or Best Actress for Bejo’s revelatory performance — the French-Argentinian star, best known for her winsome silent turn in “The Artist,” is currently the favorite for that award here at the festival.