About Elly — 7/10

ABOUT ELLY (2009, Asghar Farhadi)

If you had told me ABOUT ELLY was Farhadi’s most recent film, I’d believe it and be happy he’s improved his writing from the at-times overly schematic and contrived scripts of A SEPARATION and THE PAST. But I’d also be curious why his compositional confidence from THE PAST disappeared for this one. So when you realize this new stateside release was unearthed from 2009, it both makes sense and doesn’t at all.

As a story engine, this thing hums — it’s compelling in the first act, before anything of consequence even happens. But once the frantic search in the sea occurs (the best and most gripping sequence in the movie), it roars into another gear that keeps you laser-focused the rest of the way. And the performances are outstanding — Golshifteh Farahani is marvelous as Sepideh, the ostensible protagonist who’s responsible for most of the trouble; and if she’s not, people sure make her feel like she is. The rest of the cast is smart and keyed into the fact that for Farhadi’s moralistic movie to work, we need to believe why people lie, the extent to which they lie to some people and tell the truth to others, and what it does to characters and relationships when the consequences of those lies surface. Perhaps the commentary about gender roles in Persian culture is obvious and self-serving, but it’s never too heavy-handed and I for one learned more about the Iranian middle class than I ever expected to. There may be another layer of political commentary here (the opening shot is of a ballot box, and several scenes involve the group voting on a solution — and often disintegrating into chaos when group-think leads to terrible decisions), but I’m too ignorant of Iran to say anything meaningful about it.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “About Elly — 7/10

  1. gary

    I have to say that I think you’re underrating Farhadi. All three of his movies released in the US seem to me far more complex psychologically and emotionally than virtually anything I’ve seen lately from a US director. Having said that, I usually agree with you, even when we’re in the minority (i.e., about the execrable American Hustle…)

    • Thanks, Gary — and yeah I think I need to see all 3 Farhadis a second time to parse them further; they are dense and complex, and worthy of further analysis. And I’ve liked all 3 to greater or lesser effect (this is my favorite by a nose over A SEPARATION); I just have yet to really go gaga over him. I think I respond more to visceral formal chops, whereas Farhadi goes for theatrical drama at the expense of some cinematic aggression.

      • Anonymous

        That’s a good way of putting it. I wonder if he’s constrained cinematically by small production budgets. Do you have any idea whether there are plans to release his first three features in the US?

  2. Oops. That Anonymous is me.

    • No, I have no idea about his earlier features. I’d doubt it, but could expect Criterion or some other home video distributor to make them accessible, especially if Farhadi keeps gaining steam as a major figure in world cinema.

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