Film Review of 'About Elly' (2009)

Language - Persian
Genre - Drama, Mystery
**ing - Golshifteh Farahani, Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti

Release - 2009

Asghar Farhadi's About Elly
Director and Screenwriter Ashgar Farhadi is arguably the most recognized film-maker from Iran. He is known for his ability to push the limits of stringent censorship faced by Iranian film-makers. His latest film A Separation won the Golden Bear Award at the 2011 Berlinale Film Festival, the first Iranian film to have achieved the feat. In 2009, he won the Silver Bear Award for the  brilliant  About Elly (Darbareye Elly). The film was also voted as the 4th greatest Iranian movie ever by the National Society of Iranian Critics.

  About Elly is a poignant human drama about the friendship and relationships between middle-class families in Iran as they try to deal with a shocking tragedy. Though it runs long at 120 mins, it nonetheless manages to captivate your attention throughout with it's great story-telling and performances. The movie revolves around a weekend getaway of a close circle of families. But the main organizer of the trip Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) has an added agenda. She plans to use the outing as an effort of matchmaking between Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini), a recently divorced friend who is visiting from Germany, and Elly (Taraneh Alidousti), the pretty young kindergarten teacher of Sepideh's daughter. A plan which everyone seems to be in the know-how of, with the exception of Elly.

Winner of Silver Bear at the Berlinale 'About Elly'
Most of About Elly is set in a unkempt villa by the Caspian sea; a last minute compromise by the group as other accommodations are unavailable due to the weekend rush. The early moments are about making the villa hospitable for their planned 3 day stay, but their favorite shenanigan is teasing Ahmad about Elly and making attempts to have the intended couple spend some time together. Suspicious of their intents, Elly seems increasingly awkward and shy. For many of the international audiences, the opening act should lay to rest the general preconceptions about the Iranian society, and in particular about the role of women and the restrictions imposed on them. The women are empowered, especially Sepideh, who's treated as the matriarch of the group. Though some social customs are observed, such as wearing of the veil, it's more of traditional dressing than a restriction. They speak freely and express their opinions, and have their votes considered when deciding for the group as a whole.

But the fun-filled drama of family and friends quickly morphs into something darker when one of the children, Arash, nearly drowns in the Caspian Sea. As soon as they get a sense of relief at Arash's well-being, they are hit by the realization that the their 'guest of honor', Elly, has gone missing. Has she drowned while trying to save Arash or did she simply leave ? Ashgar Farhadi brilliantly captures the group psychology of a social system when confronted with something undesirable. There are confessions of innocuous remarks that might have upset Elly forcing her to leave, or how to convey the news to her family if she has indeed drowned. There's also a strong sense of guilt for Sepideh who planned the entire matchmaking effort and forced Elly to join them, much against her comfort. Amidst these discussions, there's a realization that hardly anything is known about Elly.

Taraneh Alidosti and Golshifteh Farahani in About Elly
In many ways, About Elly plays more like a mystery thriller than a human drama. As secrets are revealed and lies are exposed, there are choices to be made concerning family, friendship and honor. The depth of the characters largely defined by the sincerity and realism of the performances, that are as natural as the evolving circumstances they find themselves in. This is an absolutely riveting human drama with great emotional depth and deals with universal themes that each of us can relate to, and reflect upon.