A rigorous, deeply felt drama from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi
Much admired at its Berlin premiere back in 2009, this elegant, edgy and touching Iranian drama has finally been granted a UK cinema release, presumably thanks to its gifted director's worldwide statuette sweep for 2011's peerless A Separation. While this isn't quite as heart-pingingly perfect a work as its succedent, 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. Read either as straight human drama, or as a metaphor for the complexities of Iranian class and gender culture, it's bracing and effective.
A group of friends head to a beachside holiday home; Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) invites her single teacher friend Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), hoping to hook her up with a divorced family friend. But Elly is first oddly resistant to the scheme - and then mysteriously, devastatingly disruptive of the entire trip. As the mystery deepens, the others must confront questions. What do they really know about Elly, beyond the facts of her job and unmarried status? What do the strange events around her signify? Her resistance, or her capitulation to society's demands? Sinister design, or just some random stroke of fate? Whatever interpretation we might impose, Asghar Farhadi's extraordinary skill is found in the raw empathy he evokes for each of his nervous, compromised characters, and the insight with which he simultaneously pinions their hypocrisies, manipulations and outright lies.
The film's inconclusiveness might frustrate some (though fans of L'Avventura will appreciate the structural nod to Antonioni's oblique masterpiece), but this is in no way a vague or a drifting narrative: on the contrary, 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.
Selected release from Fri 14 Sep.