This is a film from acclaimed director Asghgar Farhadi (`A Separation') and pre dates that, being made in 2009. It is about three middle class families who are going for a long weekend from Tehran to holiday by the Caspian Sea. Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani -`Body of Lies') invites her daughter's teacher Elly to come along, with the ulterior motive of a bit of match making with their recently divorced friend Amhad played by Shahab Hosseini who also featured in `A Separation'.
On arrival they have to take alternative accommodation as Sepideh has got the booking wrong, so they end up in a run down `villa', the sort you see on programmes about holidays from hell. Undeterred they clean it up and start to get down to the serious business of having fun and everyone seems to be getting on really well. However, Elly says she has to go home as her mother is recovering from a heart operation and does not want to leave her alone. Sepideh has other plans and determined to make romance blossom, she hides Elly's bag, meanwhile the children are playing on the beach and Elly is left to watch after them. The next thing is one of the little girls raises the alarm that one of the boys is in the water.
What happens next would be a plot spoiler to say, but the effect of not letting Elly leave cause problems for everyone and the recriminations and blame laying start to snow ball. The more the lies they tell to one another the worse it gets.
This is an extremely well made film; it is both beautifully shot and directed. The acting is all top notch and the camera work is such that it has a fly on the wall feel at times as this was clearly not shot in a studio. The emotions are very intense and whilst it can be off putting to be a voyeur on someone else's grief, this is just more compelling because of it.It is in Iranian with good sub titles, only on my copy they were right at the bottom of the screen making some hard to read, but that in no way detracts from the quality of the film. I am a massive fan of world cinema in all of its guises and this is another example of why that genre will go from strength to strength - highly recommended.
I can’t say that this film is much fun to watch but it is never less than interesting and holds its suspense until the very end. The film is called ‘About Elly,’ and it is, but mostly in her absence! The story line is unusual and clever with several twists as it builds towards its climax. It’s a tale of how things can go wrong even allowing for the simplest of intentions. How fabrications can make things even worse and how human nature changes towards your loved ones when under strain. Apportioning blame becomes easy for some as emotions and common sense becomes entangled.
This 2009 film written and directed by Iranian film-maker Asghar Farhadi was the film he made prior to 2011's brilliant human drama A Separation and whilst, for me, this earlier effort does not quite match the later film in terms of its level of engagement (or its culture-specific points of interest), it is nevertheless another well made, well acted and perceptive human drama. Here Farhadi tells the story of Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), private teacher to the daughter of (recent) friend, Golshifteh Farahani's Sepideh, who is invited by Sepideh to join her on a weekend trip to the seaside (Caspian Sea) with some of Sepideh's ex-university friends, with the ulterior motive of 'match-making' between Elly and divorcee (returning from a period living as a husband in Germany) Shahab Hosseini's Ahmad. What follows is an intimate tale of a group of friends whose initial playfulness and teasing (of Elly) descends, via an apparently tragic accident, into an increasingly complex web of lies and deceit, which tests to the limit the group's friendships, loyalties and beliefs.
Farhadi's film is simply shot (with the exception of the more 'action-filled' accident sequence) and naturalistically acted, and from what is a relatively 'innocuous' beginning (dancing, playing charades, volleyball), becomes increasingly tense and traumatic, following the accident and Elly's mysterious disappearance. Given the intimate nature of the drama, the film's success depends largely on the acting interpretations and skills on display and these are uniformly impressive. Alidoosti is particularly good in the film's title role, outsider to the group, demure, but increasingly unsettled by the attention meted out to her. Similarly, Farahani is excellent as Elly's confidante, whose position becomes increasingly compromised and resented by the group, as is Hosseini (who was also impressive in A Separation) as Elly's (deceived) potential love interest, Ahmad. The film's simple plot is pretty much completely convincing, for me, with the exception of the group's decision to invent a further deceit to tell Elly's 'brother' who has been informed of her disappearance (it's blindingly obvious that this will only make the 'real' deceit even worse).
The film's themes of friendship, loyalty, deceit and secrecy may also be (for Farhadi) comments of a wider, more political, nature in the context of Iranian society, but it is not obvious that this is so, and About Elly works well on a simply human level in any case. These themes, and the film's wordy, intimate nature, also called to my mind (hence my review title) Mike Leigh's classic 1996 film as well as some of the more reflective Woody Allen films (September, Another Woman, Husbands And Wives). Regardless of similarities elsewhere, About Elly is a film well worth catching.
In this impressive Iranian movie (from Ashgar Farhadi, the director of A Separation) three middle class couples from Tehran rent a villa at the Caspian Sea for a few days holiday (the villa is dilapidated, since their first choice was already occupied). Along with them they bring two unattached individuals. Ahmad, the brother of one of the wives (played by Shahab Hosseini, the working-class husband in A Separation), who is coming from Germany, having recently divorced his German wife. Elly (the beautiful Taraneh Alidoosti), a sweet rather shy girl in her early 20s, is a teacher; one of her pupils is Morvarid, the young daughter of one of the wives, Sepideh. Sepideh has talked Elly into coming along in the hope that she and Ahmad may link up. Since Iranian law forbids the cohabitation of unmarried couples, Sepideh lies to the landlady, telling her Ahmed and Elly are married. However, Elly has some secrets in her life, which are better not to reveal now, since they will be key points in the plot (people having secrets and constantly lying to one another is an insistent motif in this film; this movie could have been easily named Secrets and Lies).
The first half hour of the movie is a bit of a drag, we see the men and women playing around in the villa, sometimes obnoxiously, but then a tragedy happens and the rest of the movie becomes a gripping mystery.
About Elly is a film with a perfect screenplay: no time is wasted and no character is under-developed, everything has a purpose and it is a masterpiece to study for any film student or lover of good cinema as it has a lot to offer both in terms of story development and use of sound and camera. It is a much better film in my opinion than Academy Award winning film A Separation but A Separation talked about Iran in a way that was more understood by a western audience. I find About Elly to be a film that tackles aspects of Iran that have not been explored before. I highly recommend this film and wish you all a meaningful experience.
The Amazon Lovefilm rental copy has English subtitles (thank goodness) - and so reveals a film that feels as if you're with the group of friends as the crisis evolves. Each of them reacts in different ways, as we all would.