ABOUT ELLY (2009, Iran)
SUNDAY 9 March 10.00 am
TUESDAY 11 March 8.00 pm
RUNNING TIME 119 minutes
University friends reunite for a seaside holiday with their families and the newly returned Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini) who has returned to Tehran after several years spent living in Europe. The energetic Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) extends an invitation to her daughter’s young schoolteacher Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti) to join them for the weekend, with the intent of matching the charming Elly with recently divorced Ahmad. Things take a dramatic turn when one of the party goes missing, and a seemingly harmless white lie causes a catastrophic fallout. Winner of the Silver Bear at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival.
REVIEW BY PETER BRADSHAW
The colossal success of A Separation has triggered an interest in director Asghar Farhadi's back catalogue and now his previous work, from 2009, has come to the UK. It is a really absorbing picture, powerfully acted, disturbing and suspenseful. Like A Separation, it challenges the sexual politics of contemporary Iran and further shows how different Farhadi is from the older generation of Iranian masters such as Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf. The points of reference for About Elly are probably more European: Polanski's Knife in the Water, Antonioni's L'Avventura; and Farhadi also has Michael Haneke's beady eye for the dynamics and symptoms of group guilt.
A group of friends – well-to-do professionals from Tehran – have gone on holiday together to the seaside, with their young children. Farhadi shows that this is a trip they have organised quite impulsively: when they arrive, there is some confusion about where they are supposed to be staying, and they have to move into a beachfront villa that happens to be vacant, but is chaotic and derelict. And there is something else. One of the party, the vivacious Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) has invited along someone of whom they know next to nothing: a young woman called Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), who is their children's teacher. Mischievous Sepideh is hoping to set Elly up with the single friend in their party: Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini), who is recently divorced and has just returned from a long stay doing business in Germany.
Ahmad and Elly good-naturedly see what is going on, and even go along with it, to the extent of having an intimate conversation when they go off together on an errand in the car. But Farhadi creates strange swirls and eddies of tension. The rest of the group make gigglingly raucous jokes about the impending wedding when Elly is out of the room but the ensuing discomfort – in which Sepideh appears to be a participant – appears to go beyond mere embarrassment. Eventually there is a crisis and a bizarre disappearance, and the aftermath exposes the fault lines in the group's relationship, as secrets and lies come to the surface.
About Elly confirms Farhadi's shrewd judgment of pace, dramatic technique and formal control of an ensemble cast. Anyone who admired A Separation will want to see it (one cast member of that film, Peyman Moadi, appears here) but it stands on its own as a fascinating psychological drama.
REVIEW BY NICHOLAS BARBER
Anyone who saw last year's most acclaimed film, A Separation, will be hopping from foot to foot by now, anxious to see what its director and co-writer, Asghar Farhadi, will do for an encore. About Elly is the next best thing. It was made before A Separation, and while it's not quite as compelling, it confirms that Farhadi is a scorchingly good director.
He's also an important one, politically speaking: after a run of Iranian films that presented the country's inhabitants as essentially medieval, Farhadi draws attention to those comfortable liberals who wear Nike tops and carry Louis Vuitton bags. And they don't come much more comfortable or liberal than the cast of About Elly, a group of married friends who drive from Tehran to a seaside villa for the weekend. Reminiscent of last year's French comedy drama Little White Lies, the film invites us to hang out with the characters and their children as they make dinner, tease each other, and play a game of charades which introduces us to such mind-boggling Iranian titles as The Mother of Hutch the Honeybee and God, the Kids From Law School Are Hotshots. But the gang has an ulterior motive. One of their number is a handsome divorcee (Shahab Hosseini) who now lives in Germany, and a relative stranger named Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti) has been brought along as a potential second wife.
Enjoyable as all of this is, the film leaps up a level when one of the children strays too far into the sea. There's a breathless sequence which couldn't be more nerve-shredding if had been directed by Paul Greengrass or Kathryn Bigelow, and after that, About Elly turns into a mystery. Recriminations and revelations fly, as the friends are forced to ask how well they know their new acquaintance. Lies have been told, not all of them little white ones.
Considering how much of the film consists of people talking in a beach house, it's amazingly cinematic. The flawless performances and the apparently improvised conversations have all the untidy detail of real life, while the flowing, handheld camerawork and the split-second editing give About Elly the dynamism of an action movie. True, it winds down in its last half-hour, especially from the perspective of Western audiences, who won't be as concerned as the characters are by questions of reputation and commitment, but by then we've had a masterclass in engrossing drama. And if that cutesy title lures in a few people hoping for a kooky indie romance, well, so much the better.
About Elly is one of those films which remind you just how juvenile Hollywood's output can be.
Source: The Independent 16/12/12