Eye For Film >> Movies >> About Elly (2009) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Unlike many films to emerge onto the festival circuit from Iran in recent years, Asghar Farhadi’s Silver Bear and Tribeca-winning film shies away from the overt political ‘messages’ seen in the likes of Offside and Buddha Collapsed Out Of Shame in favour of aiming to please as a narrative genre film first and foremost – but like the sea which provides its backdrop, this drama has a surprisingly deep set of undercurrents concerning the nature of friendship, lies and gender relations.
It is also a slippery character when it comes to categorisation, beginning as a light-hearted drama flecked with comedy before morphing into something altogether darker.
Golshifteh Farahani is Sepideh, the young matriarch at the heart of a group of old friends who are taking a trip to the coast. Farhadi quickly puts paid to any preconceptions Western audiences might have about women and their ‘place’ in Iranian society by showing the group - although observing certain social mores, such a the wearing of the veil – operating as an inherently democratic animal, with each of the friends getting a vote on what the party as a whole will do.
Tagging along for the ride is the teacher of Sepideh’s daughter, the eponymous Elly (Taraneh Alidousti), a reserved and gentle soul – at least on initial inspection – who is blissfully unaware that Sepideh has an ulterior motive for her invitation, the prospect of matchmaking her with a pal whose marriage has just come a cropper.
This small deception on the part of Sepideh is, while seemingly innocuous, the trigger that will ultimately lead to disaster as her desperation to keep Elly with the group leads to tragedy. Farhadi guides his narrative smoothly from the unbridled happiness of earlier scenes, in which the group play charades and generally have a blast, to the bleakness of the last half hour’s soul-searching, with finesse. By allowing a slow-build to his drama, he ensures we get a feel for the extended family dynamic before wrong-footing the characters and his audience with the suddeness and deftness of a heartbeat.
He carefully picks apart the ideas of loyalty and lies, while also exploring the notion of collective culpability, suggesting there are times when what seems like a simple choice can hold a problematic and shifting morality. Farhadi's camerawork is also a joy to watch - in particular, an extended scene of kite-flying, which perfectly encapsulates the free-spirited, unpredictable nature of the first part of the film.
Farhani – most familiar to Western audiences from her turn as the love interest in Ridley Scott’s Body Of Lies, which saw her fall foul of the Iranian authorities because of her ‘dropping’ of the veil – is the stand-out in terms of performance. As Sepideh realises the trouble her tinkering has wrought, she brings an emotional weight that drags the audience into the pit of despair with her.
Despite initial appearances of narrative simplicity, this is a story of great emotional and philosophical depth, which will leave you considering the nature of choice and the dangers of deception long after you leave the cinema.Reviewed on: 10 May 2009