About Elly (2009)

A Best Director winner at the Berlinale, Farhadi weaves a complex web of human relationships that become incredibly strained when a young woman mysteriously disappears in this riotous if unsettling drama.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,386

Dir. Asghar Farhadi
2009 | Iran | Drama/Mystery | 114 mins | 1.85:1 | Persian & German
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti
Plot: The mysterious disappearance of a kindergarten teacher during a picnic in the north of Iran is followed by a series of misadventures for her fellow travellers.
Awards: Won Best Director & Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale)
Distributor: DreamLab Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Human Relationships; Trust; Honour
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Oldham Theatre (Asian Film Archive’s Asghar Farhadi Retrospective)
Spoilers: No

Coming strongly from Fireworks Wednesday (2006), About Elly is another triumph from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi. 

This time the setting is airier (instead of stifling interiors) as a group of friends and their families travel to the seaside for an outing.  They rent a bare and unfurnished villa and invite Elly, the schoolteacher of one of their kids, whom they try to matchmake with one of the single men in tow. 

Farhadi pays particular attention to the crashing of waves as it relentlessly pervades the soundscape of what could be described as a riotous film with talky characters. 

When Elly mysteriously disappears after a near-drowning incident (the nauseating rescue sequence could be a career-best highlight), the group becomes psychologically unsettled as their close-knit relationships begin to strain when indecisions, accusations and revelations start to mount. 

“A bitter ending is better than an endless bitterness.”

There is no respite—the waves continue to crash as egos clash.  Some have compared About Elly to Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960) in terms of the premise—the latter is a notch superior in its poetic portrayal of inner existential crises, but Farhadi’s more grounded piece locates emotionalism in human despair. 

Uncertainty and confusion can be crippling and through the top-notch performances all-round, we get sucked into the world of these characters. 

Winning Best Director at the Berlinale, Farhadi’s skill in crafting what I call ‘conversational mise-en-scene’ (where dialogue regulates movement and framing) possibly reaches its apex here as his finely-tuned script strikes a balance between giving audiences the hope that the characters can resolve their anxieties and the ignominy of them falling into a deeper abyss. 

Grade: A-



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