Originally published on the old Cinewise blog on 6th October 2012.
After the immense success of A Separation it was inevitable that Asghar Farhadi’s filmography would generate interest from both filmgoers and distributors alike. So here we have his previous film, About Elly, finally getting a UK release. And what a shame that we had to wait 3 years.
What made A Separation such a great film is also evident in About Elly and, I must admit, in abundance: the controlled pace, an impending doom and a boiling group dynamic, all of which make About Elly one of the two outstanding films to be released in the UK this year, along with Once upon a Time in Anatolia. Draw your own conclusions about the fact that neither film are 2012 productions and that they are both from the Middle East.
A group of 30-something Tehranians are on a spontaneous weekend trip to the seaside. This is not the Iran of Ahmadinejad or what you see in the news: without the loose headscarves around the women, this could be any country in the First World. The women, far from what is stereotypically assumed from our point of view, are on par, or even superior, to men. It is their vote that counts when making group decisions and it is a woman within the group that is a de facto leader, Sepideh (the gorgeous Golshifteh Farahani) – at least when things are going according to plan.
The main purpose of the trip, as we find out earlier on, is match-making: in the group there is a single male friend of theirs, Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini), who is visiting from Germany where he lives, and a mysterious woman that nobody seems to know about much about, named Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti). Elly is the teacher of Sepideh’s children and that seems to be the only information they have on her.
oon after settling in a seaside villa, the close-knit group and Elly begin their fun weekend. However, Farhadi (who also wrote the script) gives us hints and suggestions (true and false) about the secrets everyone has been holding from each other. When tragedy strikes, these divisions within the group threaten to derail not only their friendship, but their wellbeing as well.
Farhadi very subtly hints at what happens when someone’s free will is taken from them. If the decision-making wasn’t a committee intervention, things may have turned out quite differently (as you can understand, I don’t want to give too much away).
Another thing to point out is that this is a group of friends who live within a system, but managed to find a way out of it through friendship and trust. But when their way of life is exposed without their control, they lose their grip on each other. This is crucial in both the film’s progress and what Iran has been going through over the past few years – let’s not forget that Iran used to be the most progressive, “western” nation in the Middle East before the Islamic revolution.
Farhadi’s film is politically astute and artistically brilliant. It is, in my opinion, superior to A Separation, with which it shares three actors. Go and see it, you won’t be disappointed.