My 2012 Cambridge Film Festival experience began on a real high this September when I saw ABOUT ELLY. I recently saw this Iranian film a second time and it made an even bigger impression.
Director Asghar Farhadi is better known for his more recent film A SEPARATION, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this year. Indeed, it was the success of that film which lead to the release of this earlier 2009 offering.
Many commentators, while acknowledging that ABOUT ELLY is very good, feel A SEPARATION is the better film. I’m not so sure. I think they are both equally superb.
As with A SEPARATION, the structure of ABOUT ELLY is cleverly, but unobtrusively, crafted. The story begins with a dizzying swirl of characters but slowly you piece together who is who and how they relate to each other – a process of orientation that effectively draws you into the narrative. Your immersion in the lives of these characters means that as the story takes unexpected turns (the mention of Antonioni by many commentators is appropriate) the unfolding drama is rendered all the more powerful, the multilayered themes all the more affecting.
The film is brilliantly shot – the key dramatic scene is breathtaking; the performances are uniformally excellent. In short, if you missed it during the very limited cinema release, try and get hold of it on DVD (which looks like it will be released in January 2013).
Incidentally, this is another example of cinema providing a very different view of modern day Iran than that which we normally see via the news outlets, the importance of which I’ve written about elsewhere (here and here)
Here’s what others say about the film:-
Rich Cline in Shadows On The Wall:-
Bursting with energy, this ensemble drama from Iran is raucous, chaotic and packed with strong emotion as the story twists its way to a startling final act. And it feels so real that you can’t help but identify with the characters and situations.
This is a bracingly complex collection of people in extraordinary circumstances, and the film makes us consider our own moral values in ways that are refreshing and provocative. And strikingly resonant.
Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian:-
It is a really absorbing picture, powerfully acted, disturbing and suspenseful. Like A Separation it challenges the sexual politics of contemporary Iran and further shows how different Farhadi is from the older generation of Iranian masters such as Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf. The points of reference for About Elly are probably more European: Polanski’s Knife in the Water, Antonioni’s L’Avventura; and Farhadi also has Michael Haneke’s beady eye for the dynamics and symptoms of group guilt.
About Elly confirms Farhadi’s shrewd judgment of pace, dramatic technique and formal control of an ensemble cast. Anyone who admired A Separation will want to see it (one cast member of that film, Peyman Moadi, appears here) but it stands on its own as a fascinating psychological drama.
Derek Malcom in The London Evening Standard:-
Once again, Farhadi has told an ordinary story in an extraordinary way.
Philip French in The Guardian:-
Superbly acted, morally challenging, packed with legitimate suspense, this is film-making of a high order.
Hannah Clarkson in Take One:-
A woman leans her head out of a car window, whooping and screaming with exhilaration, the wind pushing the scarf covering her hair further back from her brow. The driver turns to look at her, smiling, as his other passengers do the same. The friends from Tehran and their young families are on their way to a seaside weekend of dancing, joking and laughter in what promises to be a vibrant, joyful film…
As one white lie leads to another, one untruth leads to a greater deception, a web of lies weaves a bristling divide with an ease that is deeply unsettling… Blame shifts constantly with the breeze as the innocent become suspect and an undercurrent of distrust even amongst the closest of friends sweeps values once though steadfast up onto the shore. …Wavering thoughts and fear score deep in Farhadi’s meditation on friendship, complicity and the very nature of truth itself.
Hannah McGill in The List:-
Much admired at its Berlin premiere back in 2009, this elegant, edgy and touching Iranian drama has finally been granted a UK cinema release… About Elly is another rigorous, deeply felt drama of duty, desire and social status; and like A Separation, it lends itself generously to layered interpretations.
Farhadi constructs a taut story, as precariously balanced on luck and lies as that of a French farce, and then lets it spring holes before our eyes. The acting is fierce in every sense – and, to note an admittedly shallower selling point, Golshifteh Farahani surely has one of the most beautiful faces on which a camera has ever focused.