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.