Thursday, 14 March 2013

About Elly (2009, Asghar Farhadi)

After initially poor distribution many will seek out or find Asghar Farhadi's 2009 film, About Elly, due to the profile raising nature of his 2012 Oscar-winning A Separation. Looking back at this previous work, his talent for presenting a seemingly simple scenario before dissecting it, revealing layer after layer of significant social truths is apparent.

An escape to a holiday home by an array of family and friends starts the film on its slippery slope, even in its opening segments we see cause for concern as things don't quite go to plan. Central to much of the film's dramatic turns is Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) who despite the best intentions plants the deceitful seeds that will later amount to devastating results. The usual holiday home is unavailable to the party, information known to Sepideh but never revealed through her fear of disappointing the others, believing they'd sort out the details upon their arrival. Luckily they are housed in a rather grim beach resort which they spruce up the best they can. But this false start based on Sepideh's omission of truth starts a snowballing effect that along with an attempt to matchmake a divorced friend and an acquaintance of Sepideh's (Elly), comes a shocking re-evaluation of modern relations.

As Elly is left with the children after 'gently' being persuaded to stay for the whole weekend, despite her clear desire to leave, she vanishes and is assumed to have drowned going in to save a young boy in her care. As the rest of the group try to decipher what has happened, to confirm whether she did in fact enter the water or leave, the information regarding Elly is either contradictory or ambiguous at best. As pressure falls on Sepideh to provide answers it's soon clear that the woman in her presence the day before, the woman who teaches her children and brought along through her persuasion is nothing but an enigma to them all. Even the easiest of questions regarding her character can't be answered, including why she agreed to come, her connections back in Tehran, and before long whether the man brought into help is Elly's brother or fiancee.

Farhadi controls his story and cast expertly, never losing our intrigue for a second while constantly revealing new levels of intrigue. As the escalating scenario develops further the objective understanding of the group is knocked time and time again as the truth steadily comes to light. One of the most brilliant and chilling aspects of Farhadi's story comes from how it stems from the everyday, that there is no spanner in the works, no wolf in sheep's clothing present to sour the perfect holiday. It's the everyday deception of little white lies that amount to much more here, with everyone meaning well and having the best intentions a dark day falls on this group through human weaknesses. As with A Separation the characters are taken to morally grey extremes and forced to confront the murky maze of deception they've laid out for themselves and those around them.

Farhadi's direction is flawless, a once again invisible mode of storytelling in which his presence is absent and makes way for a pure cinema of natural performers with little to no staging. In About Elly he has created a morally rich modern parable of sorts that though I'm sure speaks volumes about Iranian customs and relations in some way, speaks to all of us as we might wonder, when forced, how little we know about those around us everyday.

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