Berenice Bejo first came to American attention with "The Artist," the retro silent Best Picture winner that earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Now she's in "The Past" ("Le Passé"), the latest from Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, who follows up his Oscar winning hit drama "A Separation." Like that film, "The Past" — which just made its Cannes film festival debut, to almost uniform praise — concerns a looming divorce, this time between a French woman (Bejo) and her Iranian husband (Tahar Rahim), who has decided to return to his homeland.
"The Past" is about conflicts between family members and loved ones. Is this something that you can relate to?
This is a film that is so far removed from my life, from my everyday. But at the same time, it’s really interesting to play someone who is your total opposite.
It must be an interesting experience working with Asghar Farhadi, considering he requires that his cast begin rehearsing two months before the actual filming starts.
Yes, it’s rather destabilizing because after two months spent rehearsing, I felt like that was it. Our work was done. I didn’t think I would have anything left in me! But at the end, what it does is allow you to make it halfway in your journey. Marie was in me, and I was able to take her even further. It’s incredibly liberating.
Asghar Farhadi is known for getting exactly what he wants. Is that true?
Absolutely. Asghar is a choreographer. He carefully orchestrates every single movement, every gesture that would otherwise seem insignificant.
How do you manage on set when you don’t speak the same language as the director?
It's rather particular but I really enjoyed the experience. Having a translator forces you to listen to what the other person has to say and think about their answer. There was a really agreeable atmosphere on set because we all spent a lot of time observing each other. By the end, Asghar and I didn’t even need to speak in order to understand each other.
What was the most difficult thing about doing this film?
To stop. Even though I was exhausted, it was hard to let go of this project, because a director that pushes your boundaries so [far] — it’s rare.