ABOUT ELLY (2009)
Starring Shahab Hosseini, Golshifteh Farahani, Taraneh Alidoosti, Mani Haghighi, Peyman Moaadi, Merila Zarei, Ra’na Azadivar, Ahmad Mehranfar and Saber Abbar.
Screenplay by Asghar Farhadi.
Directed by Asghar Farhadi.
Distributed by Cinema Guild. 113 minutes. Not Rated.
The world at large learned about the filmmaking skill of Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi in 2012 when his film A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film – the first Iranian film ever to win that honor. However, just because we had just discovered him doesn’t mean that Farhadi was new to filmmaking. A Separation was actually Farhadi’s fifth film as a writer/director – he now has made six, The Past was released in 2013 – as well as a few others which he merely wrote.
About Elly was actually the film that Farhadi made before A Separation, though due to licensing problems it’s only getting an official American release six years later. And, somewhat surprisingly, About Elly comes pretty darned close to being just as terrific a film as A Separation.
It was certainly worth the wait. If anything, About Elly may be more timely now than when it was made.
Farhadi has been known to say that he does not want the responsibility of being the filmmaker who explains life in Iran to the western world, and in many ways About Elly is about very different Iranians that we have met before. These are just people, the fact that they are Iranian is beside the point. Farhadi is fascinated by characters.
“I assume that [the] audience is intelligent, so I don’t want to give too much,” Farhadi told us in an interview in 2012. “I want the audience to figure out things for themselves. When I give information about my characters, I don’t want to give them directly. I want my audience to get that information by seeing those characters within certain circumstances. The way they respond to the circumstances is the clue as to who they are. I [try] as much as possible to remain neutral in telling a story of the conflict between various people. I don’t want to take sides between the various characters.”
The storyline of About Elly starts out as being deceptively lighthearted. Three middle-class Iranian families decide to take a long weekend on the Caspian Sea. (Who knew Iranians like go to the beach? Of course they would, but you never get to see that.) They are old college friends, three couples with their kids and a recently divorced buddy. One of the wives also invites her daughter’s teacher, the title character Elly [Taraneh Alidoosti], with the idea of maybe hooking her up with the divorced friend.
However some little white lies snowball and despite Elly’s insistence that she can only stay one night, they insist she stay the weekend. Then, while Elly was watching the kids, one of the children gets pulled out to see. The men work desperately to save the boy, but it is only after he is safely ashore that the group realizes that Elly has disappeared. Did she drown? Did she leave? If she did drown, was it trying to save the boy or was she trying to kill herself?
Suddenly the group realized that they knew very little about her and a series of little lies – many of them told by themselves – leave them with more questions than answers.
About Elly is intriguing as a psychological thriller, and yet it also works as a look at the fickleness of fate. Beautifully filmed and acted, it will be hard to shake even after you leave the theater.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 8, 2015.