From the director of last year’s awards success A Separation (2011), About Elly is an intriguing drama about a varied group of friends who go on a trip to the coast. At the centre of the group of friends is Sepideh (brilliantly played by Golshifteh Farahani) who brings along the teacher, Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), of her young daughter in order to try and set her up with a friend from Germany, Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini). Sepideh’s plan seems to be working when the group embrace the new companion and Ahmad and Elly seem to bond. However, when Elly is left watching the children at the beach she suddenly disappears and the friends are left to try and piece together what has happened to her and who she really was.
About Elly is a gripping film. It begins quite light-heartedly as we see the group travelling and laughing and joking. But the tone suddenly and unexpectedly changes, catching the audience off guard and building tension very quickly. The mystery surrounding Elly drives the film and the characters are superbly acted by the various cast members, even the young children are good, but Golshifteh Farahani as Sepideh and Shahab Hosseini as Ahmad really stand out.
Due to the tension being built up rapidly the ending is slightly anticlimactic but this does little to impede on the overall enjoyment factor of the film. The story centres around the eponymous Elly and we find out about her just as the characters do, directly involving us in the intrigue and allowing us to get swept away with the story.
As things unfold the dynamics of the group changes and we see how these people deal with the crisis at hand. It feels incredibly real watching the characters adjust and figure out what is happening, a lack of music actually adds to this, and the great performances really make the film. We gradually get to know a little about each of the people and are lulled into a false sense of security just like them. The unpredictability of the film ensures audiences are enthralled throughout and the desolate setting adds to the uneasy sense the film embraces.
Credit must be given to the sound design department as the noise of the swelling and crashing waves really adds to the menacing power of the sea, a crucial part of the film. This is an extremely well-paced film with the director confidently dealing with the multitude of characters.
From the hype surrounding A Separation expectations are high for this predecessor; the success of A Separation has ensured this previous film reaches a wider audience, and About Elly really does not disappoint. Whilst it may appear fairly simple on the surface, the story is layered with comments on deception and lies as well as the personas we create and the people we would like to be. As we see each of the characters stripped down to their most human reactions we begin to truly understand the depth of this tale of morality.
About Elly is a thoroughly riveting film with outstanding performances and an essence of classic films such as Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960), another fascinating film from Asghar Farhadi.
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi (screenplay and story) and Azad Jafarian (story)
Stars: Golshifteh Farahani, Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti
Runtime: 119 mins
Country: Iran, France