ABOUT ELLY (Darbareye Elly)
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi, story by Azad Jafarian
Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti, Merila Zare’I, Mani Haghighi, Peyman Moaadi, Ra’na Azadivar, Ahmad Mehranfar, Saber Abbar
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/4/15
Opens: April 9, 2015
There may be cultural differences between Americans and people in the non-Western world, but one truth is universal: thou shalt not lie. Lying may get you somewhere in the short run, but ultimately as Walter Scott said, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” Not to be outdone, Alfred Tennyson adds, “A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.” Half truths are on display in Asghar Farhadi’s “About Elly,” a naturalistic drama that turns into an intricate psychological thriller at half time and has the quality we have come to expect from a filmmaker whose “A Separation” bores into the dilemma of a married couple who must decide whether to leave Iran or to stay and take care of a parent with Alzheimer’s.
With a cast headed by Golshifteh Farahani, best known in these parts for a role in Ridley Scott’s blockbuster “A Body of Lies” about a CIA operative in Jordan hunting down a terrorist, Farahani inhabits the role of Sepideh, a young woman who with a group of rowdy friends drives from Tehran for a weekend at the Caspian Sea. She soon becomes immersed in a melodrama that turns the group from carefree exuberance to morbid self-analysis. The youths are from a wealthy segment of the Iranian capital, the women wearing the roo sari, a headdress covering all but the front hair though none seems particularly religious. (Perhaps they wear the roo sari even indoors only to get the film past the censors.) “About Elly” gains momentum by being built on a pyramid of lies, as the friends lie to one another and in turn to a man who is contacted in Tehran eager to know the fate of his fiancé. Director Farhadi may be winking to the theater audience, who will be sophisticated enough to see the political satire involved: Iran is an entire country built on lies, the most obvious one being that their centrifuges are producing items strictly for peaceful means.
The first lie occurs when we discover that Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) knew all along that the villa they rented for the weekend would be available for only one night, as the owners would be returning thereafter. She is sure that something can be done, and this time she lucks out as a nearby villa, however dirty and unfit for habitation, becomes the weekend retreat. But given how the 20-something folks whoop it up, that’s the least of their problems.
Elly, for a while the shy person in the group as she is a stranger to all except Sepideh—who invited her to join the group as she is the teacher of a child—runs happily with the three little ones on the beach, flying their kite. When one of the small children gets lost in the water, Elly jumps in and disappears in the strong current. When the group realize that she has been missing for hours, they assume that she is dead, which is when recriminations start. Ultimate blame is put on Sepideh, who, they find out, lied about Elly’s status back home with a fiancé and is hoping to “fix her up” with Ahmad (Shabab Hosseini), a recently divorced friend who has been working in Germany and is back in Tehran for a short while.
When Sepideh announces that Elly had been unhappily engaged for most of two years, we wonder whether this is yet another lie. As the camera moves from face to face, we see various expressions of fright, distrust, and a determination to blame everyone but themselves for the mishap. One couple even resort to physical violence. We watch as moment to moment the relationships crumble, and wonder just how the group will explain Elly’s presence to her fiancé, Alireza (Saber Abbar), who drives up to the villa eager to hear the absolutely truth.
Is this the “bitter ending [that is] better than an endless bitterness,” which is how Elly is consoled to support her break with the fiancé? Director Farhadi is intent on showing the remorse of these previously carefree vacationers, doing a most convincing job of justifying their mistrust and demonstrating the need to tell the truth at all costs.
Unrated. 119 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+