Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi builds on the acclaim of A Separation with another compelling domestic drama about the unpredictable nature of relationships. Four years after leaving his French wife Marie (The Artist's Berenice Bejo), Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to Paris to finalise their divorce. At the family home, he discovers that she is living with a new man (Tahar Rahim). Inevitably, the uncomfortable atmosphere causes old resentments to rise. But it's revelations from the recent past that cause the greatest stir.
She may have been the heart and soul of The Artist, but Bérénice Bejo's Marie is about as far from Peppy as you can get in this latest foray into domestic discord from Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi.
Like his Oscar-nominated international breakthrough A Separation, The Past uses the end of a marriage to explore the natural but often misguided instincts that make and break relationships - anger, resentment, trust, blame, guilt.
After four years in his native Iran, Ahmad (Mosaffa) returns to Paris to sign off his long-overdue divorce to the civil but passively aggressive Marie.
Keen to see his two step-daughters, he arrives at the humble family home to find the youngest playing with another boy, Fouad - the son of Marie's new live-in lover Samir (A Prophet's Tahir Rahim).
Samir's existence is just the first of several surprises. But what's of immediate concern is that Marie's teenage daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) doesn't like him.
It's obviously more than a simple personality clash - Samir is hardly a barrel of laughs but fundamentally decent - so Marie asks Ahmad to find out what her real problem is.
And therein lies the source of the awkwardness. Samir is still married, his wife is in a coma, and while she lives in limbo so must everyone else.
But there's more to it than that as Farhadi loosens the valve on a drip-feed of revelations, each one changing any assumptions prompted by the last.
Infusing his simple story with subtle complexities, Farhadi crafts an absorbing drama with little recourse to melodrama (although he does dip into unnecessary metaphor with Samir's efforts to paint the house: fresh start = fresh mess).
He's assisted by splendidly measured performances from Mosaffa (regretful and rational) and Bejo (stubborn and contrary), and the natural precocity of young Elyes Aguis as Fouad.
Had it been made in Britain, you could have put the kitchen sink on it descending into some kind of EastEnders-style yelling contest.
Instead, The Past ends with a scene that quietly underscores the film's point: in life, nothing is certain.