Review: About Elly – Darbareye Elly (2009)

About Elly – Darbareye Elly (2009)

Directed by: Asghar Farhadi | 119 minutes | drama | Actors: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Golshifteh Farahani, Merila Zare’i, Mani Haghighi, Peyman Moaadi, Ra’na Azadivar, Ahmad Mehranfar, Saber Abbar

Unlike ‘our’ Carice van Houten, the Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani was not cut by Ridley Scott from ‘Body of Lies’ (2008). She was the first Iranian star to play a role in a major Hollywood production. In her homeland, her appearance in ‘Body of Lies’ was not appreciated: Farahani was placed under house arrest and as a result missed an audition for the female lead in ‘Prince of Persia’ (2010) in London, which eventually went to British Gemma Arterton . Farahani was banned from Iran for six months. As soon as her ‘punishment’ was over, she packed her bags. Since then she has lived in Paris, where she can do as she pleases. The last film Farahani made in Iran was ‘About Elly’ (2009) by Asghar Farhadi, winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and several other awards at festivals around the world. Even Iranian President Ahmadinejad was impressed by this haunting drama, Iran’s entry for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film: he insisted that the film be screened at the Fajr Film Festival.

‘About Elly’ opens deceptively simple. A group of old college friends decides to take a weekend getaway with their wife and children, to get a breath of fresh air on the coast. Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) has invited Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti) her daughter’s teacher on the trip, hoping to pair her up with Achmad (Shahab Hosseini), whose marriage to a German woman has recently come to an end. The reserved and mysterious Elly seems to have no idea that Sepideh has invited her to the seaside weekend under false pretenses and feels uneasy when she finds herself being talked about behind her back. The deal was that she would only stay for a day, but when she’s about to leave, Sepideh goes all the way to make sure Elly stays. When at an unguarded moment one of the children ends up in the raging sea, panic sets in. Especially when it turns out that Elly is then missing. From that moment on, events accelerated.

‘About Elly’ cannot be easily pigeonholed. The film starts very lightly, with some comic moments, after which the atmosphere quickly becomes a lot more grim. Drama and mystery predominate from that moment on. Director and screenwriter Farhadi then goes into depth and expertly observes how friendships can be weighed down by telling the truth or not. He builds up the film almost perfectly; it is precisely by starting loosely and innocently that the blow hits extra hard and the atmosphere in the second part of the film is so oppressive. The characters are realistic and engaging and are portrayed excellently. Farahani, in particular, stars as Sepideh, who is seen as the instigator of all tragedy by withholding information. Because the viewer does not immediately know what the truth is, he becomes directly involved in the story. Unlike many other Iranian films, the political messages in ‘About Elly’ are only subtly present. Farhadi’s Iran is a place where men and women make decisions together at first glance. That one scene in which one of the men lets himself go does little to change that. However, if you read between the lines, you will discover the necessary criticism of Iranian society and the position of women in it, albeit carefully packaged (after all, the director works from Iran, so he must act discreetly). The camera work is well done and has some highlights, including the crucial kite scene.

Rudolf van den Berg’s ‘Tirza’ (2010), the Dutch Oscar entry, has a formidable competitor in ‘About Elly’. Asghar Farhadi has made a fascinating film that gets under your skin over time. The scenario is very well put together and is supported by a fine cast, with the talented Golshifteh Farahani as the absolute star. Typically the kind of film that, after you’ve seen it, will continue to simmer for a while. Farhadi is increasingly claiming a place in the list of illustrious Iranian filmmakers with Abbas Kiarostami, Bahman Ghobadi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Jafar Panahi.

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