Asghar Farhadi surprises the world with his 2011 award-winning drama, “A Separation”. It wins many accolades, not to mention the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film from Iran. Many are now curious about his past works before “A Separation”, and thanks to Vampibots, I got the chance of knowing this movie: “About Elly”. Still talks about drama about family, “About Elly” is as emotionally gripping as “A Separation”, although there’s still some minor difference between them. The thing is, if you love “A Separation”, you will love “About Elly”.
“About Elly” is, of course, about Elly. A group of family, consisting of Sepideh (played by Golshifteh Farahani), his husband, two other married couples, Ahmad (played by Shahab Hosseini)—a recently divorced man, and Elly (played by Taraneh Alidoosti), goes in a three-day family picnic to a seaside house. Different from the other seven, Elly is not a part of the family since she is the teacher of Sepideh’s daughter. Sepideh starts a joke of matchmaking Elly and Ahmad, making the two a little bit shy to each other. But things get out of control when the next day, Elly suddenly disappears and all the secrets about Elly begins sticking out.
Once again, Farhadi makes an astonishing movie with a perfectly solid story. The story is so gripping, that you will emotionally involved in it like it happens in real. Farhadi knows that “About Elly” leans mostly on the story and the acting, and instead of doing exceptional treatments to the cinematography, score, and other technical aspects, he chooses to let the story be natural. It gives a sense of reality to “About Elly”, making it looks both nice and simple without too much rambling. The conflicts appear slowly but surprisingly, and every conflict connects to another conflict, making the story be so perfect—maybe with barely any plot holes. Every little thing matters, and every seemingly improvised scene (thanks to the outstanding performance of the ensemble cast) does contribute to the grand plot of “About Elly”.
At first I thought that due to Elly’s disappearance, “About Elly” will talk more about where she goes and what happens to her. Of course, her disappearance is a very finger-snapping part of this movie because starting from it, the mystery begins rolling out. But, for me, this movie is more to be a drama with a series of conflicts rather than a mystery. Maybe this is too obvious: like “Citizen Kane” where in the beginning you will be hooked to solve the mystery of “Rosebud” but instead you will be introduced to who Charles Kane was and how he lived, the mystery of Elly’s disappearance is just a gate of getting more information about who Elly really is, where she comes from, and what background she has. The more you come the ending part of the movie, the less you will be interested to where Elly disappears. You will unexpectedly be supposed to understand that solving the mystery is not the main goal of the movie. “About Elly” is just way more unpredictable and more surprising under the big title of drama genre.
Perhaps some will be interested to the cultural aspect of the movie. “About Elly” is, yes, from Iran, but I don’t think that you will learn a lot about Iranian culture (and the people’s religion!) from this movie. I think this has nothing to do with the country background; I mean, the story of “About Elly” just accidentally happens in Iran. Well, still, there’re some parts of this movie that describes the way Iranian people interact to each other, how they spend their time, how their costumes and appearances, and more, but these middle class families in “About Elly” are barely a good representation of Iran itself. This is something different to, say, “A Separation” where cultural or spiritual background of the roles looks more prominent.
The last thing is the acting. I don’t know how Farhadi handles this, but seriously, the ensemble cast is so damn good. It’s not like seeing actors and actresses playing roles; it’s like seeing real families going to a picnic. Their chemistry as families is very natural, neat, and nice. As the movie goes, every role develops into a specific characterization and the trait of every character begins showing out. I just don’t know how, but as long as I watch this movie, I predict that most dialogues are improvised. It makes the story so close to us, like it’s not a one-of-a-kind story that goes beyond our imagination. The ensemble cast make “About Elly” seems like a reality instead of a fiction, and this is truly an achievement for them.
There are many ways for filmmakers to make an outstanding movie: some do it by the characters, some do it by visual artistry, some do it with metaphors. Farhadi does it with a solid and straight story. “About Elly” is not even supported by scoring or exceptional cinematography, but it grips viewer’s emotion and attention with its non-stop, breath-taking conflicts. An extraordinary movie that will glue you to your seat.
▲ Gripping with a perfectly solid story, natural acting by the cast
▼ Less cues and lessons about cultural background
ABOUT ELLY | ORIGINAL TITLE Darbareye Elly COUNTRY Iran YEAR 2009 RATING n.a. RUNTIME 119 min GENRE Drama, Mystery CAST Golshifteh Farahani, Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti, Payman Maadi, Merila Zare'i WRITER Asghar Farhadi (screenplay), Azad Jafarian (story) DIRECTOR Asghar Farhadi MORE INFO