By a curious fluke of timing, two family melodramas open in Boston movie theaters this week. They couldn’t be more different. “August: Osage County” is a smorgasbord of Hollywood art and commerce, from its headliners (Streep, Roberts) to its Broadway pedigree to the Big Acting smeared all over the furniture. By contrast, “The Past,” the new film from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, is taut, quiet, democratic, observant — a fine meal made with rare and subtle ingredients. One film fills the belly, the other nourishes the soul; one gives you an instant cholesterol hit, the other you’ll be coming back to taste in your imagination for days. I wish I’d enjoyed “August” a little less and loved “The Past” a little more, but there you go. It may depend on what you’re hungry for when you see each movie.
In any event, “The Past” can’t be denied, even if it’s not quite up to the level of Farhadi’s “A Separation,” winner of the best foreign language film Oscar in 2012. Part of that earlier film’s appeal was the novelty of its setting — for Western moviegoers, at least — and its vision of modern relationships struggling to function in a quasi-medieval theocracy. The new movie takes place on the outskirts of Paris, amid working-class French and Iranian immigrants, and at first the title seems a misnomer. Everyone here is trying to get away from the past. If only it were that easy.