by Afra Nariman
About Elly (2009)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Golshifteh Farahani, Tarane Alidousti, Merila Zarei, Shahab Hosseini, Payman Maadi
“It was all written. It was her fate, poor thing. That’s nobody’s fault.”
Brilliant filmmaking that captures a chaotic order through both story and cinematography, About Elly exhibits the suspense and tension of an all-out thriller, despite simply being centered around the moral dilemmas confronted by a group of friends. The way that Asghar Farhadi toys with the audience’s expectations and our emotions is second-to-none. In About Elly, he tells a story that finds its roots in a variety of different emotions; through a blend of joy, despair, suspense, tension, and even violence — violence which is rarely physically acted upon. The violence here is systematic and metaphorical; though it finds time to burst to the surface in a couple key moments of the film. Similarly, each emotion seems to be alive, existing beneath the surface of each scene and each character — personified particularly masterfully by Golshifteh Farahani in her portrayal of Sepideh — with these emotions being tactfully suppressed or expressed when needed.
On rewatch, the film lost absolutely none of the thrill, tension or suspense that it shocked me with on first watch. Additionally, this time around I felt as though I was given more time to notice so much of the detail that Farhadi packs into each frame, each shot, each transition, each facial expression, etc.
About Elly is as layered as Farhadi’s other great films. There is the film’s surface layer — a suspenseful mystery about a friend who goes missing. There is a next layer — which illustrates the presence of dishonesty in society; and communicates the fact that lies hinder moral truths, and that when lies spread, they hurt people. There is also a more subversive layer — which interrogates the effect that an immoral, suppressive society has on the individual (in a sense flipping the cause/effect relationship highlighted in layer 2).
Taking place at a beautiful seaside villa — and the camera makes sure to capture the profound beauty of the setting — the film paints the picture of its characters’ surroundings to be beautiful, pleasant, even akin to a paradise from the outside looking in; much like Iran as a whole. Nevertheless, the film’s main events begin when Elly becomes adamant that she wants to leave the villa. The notion of a suppressed existence in this seemingly wonderful setting is evident in many of the character interactions from this point on, particularly amongst the women of the friend group — this group of friends, seemingly representative of modern Iranian society at large… Examples of this: Sepideh wants to leave with Ahmad to phone Elly’s family, but her husband doesn’t allow it. Naazi offers to take Sepdieh’s place, but is asked to stay instead. Shohreh wants to go home (to get away from the distressing issues), but her husband prevents this from happening. Additionally, we learn that Elly’s fiancé was suffocating her, and although she wanted to break off their engagement, her family (enforced by societal values) would push back against that notion. Returning to the quote I opened with; given Elly’s life being as it was, “it was her fate” to disappear in one way or another — whether that be physically or metaphorically, intentionally or accidentally.
In more words; when tensions reach their limit — facades are unveiled, and the truth surfaces regarding the patriarchy’s suffocating presence in society. As a humanist, Farhadi is less concerned with the motivations or cause behind Elly’s disappearance, as much as he is interested in observing the complex web of lies which gradually uncover the realities lived by his characters, particularly prior to the events of the film itself. About Elly is not about Elly’s disappearance, it’s simply about Elly, the person.
MY RATING /5:
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