Following the overwhelming success of Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning film A Separation in 2011, an earlier and much more quiet Farhadi film, About Elly, has now gained a UK release; and I am personally thrilled that it has. The plot revolves around a group of middle-class friends who reunite on a beach holiday which Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) has organised. We find out early on in the film that Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), nursery teacher to Sepideh’s daughter, has been invited along in order to be set up with recently divorced Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini). The first half of the film sees a steady development of the group dynamic between the friends which paints a picture of a perfectly happy holiday. However, following a tragic accident we begin to see the previously idyllic image of the friends crumble as cracks in their relationships which formed long ago begin to resurface.
Creating suspense and intrigue with so little action, so few characters, and in such a confined setting is usually associated with contemporary horror films; Farhadi employs all of this to his advantage but for different ends. He offers an almost Bergman-esque simplicity in his storytelling, leaving the audience to draw their own moral conclusions, all the while quietly raising important social issues.
Farhadi’s film explores the complex and dangerous impact that a lie can have on relationships, even when it is told to protect someone else. He also manages to address such issues as male dominance and honour in Iranian culture, the place of women in modern Iran and, of course, the fragile dynamics of friendships and relationships. Farhadi achieves a moral depth while creating a gripping thriller through his bleak cinematography, masterly sound editing and stunning performances by his small cast.
There is a simple elegance to Farhadi’s exploration of the destructive power of guilt and blame that comes from the unravelling of a lie. While About Elly is similar to A Separation in its exploration of the complexities of relationships, its simplicity makes our connection to the film’s characters more intimate. In the world which Farhadi creates for us, we must attune ourselves to the subtle yet critical shifts in the dynamics of the relationships and the behaviour of the characters in the film.
In leaving so much of the morality of the film in the viewer’s hands, Farhadi invites us into this imaginative world, and the culture which he is a part of but which might be alien to most of the Western world. His skill in creating an engrossing dynamic between his cast, coupled with powerhouse performances (particularly from his leading lady Farahani), adds to the brilliance of this film.
I can highly recommend this quiet but compelling drama, which yet again showcases Farhadi’s shrewd ability to ask moral questions that we didn’t even know troubled us; it is these depths whichmake an otherwise straightforward plot both gripping and intelligent, with an emotional beauty that you cannot help but feel utterly enthralled by.