About Elly

'About Elly' movie poster

Release: Wednesday, April 8, 2015 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Asghar Farhadi; Azad Jafarian

Directed by: Asghar Farhadi


This film originally debuted in Iran in 2009 but American markets did not get it until last year, hence the film qualifies as a ‘recent’ release on this site.


Asghar Farhadi is an extraordinarily perceptive filmmaker with a profound ability to distill the ‘ordinariness’  of the human experience into cinematic form. Whereas even the most discerning of dramas manifest as art imitating life, About Elly sits on a lonely shelf above, becoming life itself and told artfully through an empathetic lens.

Heartbreaking and thrilling in almost equal measure (it’s certainly more the former), Farhadi’s fourth effort simultaneously explores tenets of Iranian culture — honor, loyalty, family values — while cutting the shape of humanity’s oh-so-imperfect design. Even with the best intentions at heart, we are still capable of such remarkable destruction. In this case, destruction of a most personal and emotional nature. At its core, About Elly is about a lie or a series of lies that start off as minor omissions of facts but quickly swell to potentially world-shattering cover-ups. And then, the revelations.

Here is a complex mystery that smartly leans on fundamentals: powerful performances and engrossing storytelling. About Elly sees a trio of middle-class couples, the majority former law school friends, taking a weekend trip to a seaside villa in northern Iran, an excursion that goes horribly awry after the sudden disappearance of Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), a young schoolteacher who is brought along by her friend Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani). The resultant turmoil whisks viewers far away from the bon mot of its beguiling beginnings and towards a wholly befitting if not still surprising conclusion. Along the way some brave directorial decisions are made that, in retrospect, make the experience what it is.

The discovery process is so utterly immersive the lack of music of any kind goes unnoticed until the closing credits where a suitably melancholic ode to the titular character strikes the heart with a note of bittersweet finality. That absence isn’t a case of careless oversight; Farhadi seems to subscribe to the notion that if a story is good enough it should sustain itself on its own merits. He isn’t denouncing soundtracks and scores as frivolous, unnatural embellishments as aural stimulation plays a crucial part in generating and sustaining tension. (As one character claims late into the affair, “I want to go back to Tehran. The sound of the waves is driving me crazy.”)

Also missing are major dramatic setpieces, save for one sequence that, once explained, would diminish the impact of the experience. Suffice it to say the drama is kept low-key, with Farhadi choosing to emphasize the physical and psychological changes in his performances as things go from bad to worse. And on the subject of acting, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a rather unknown group of contributors who do finer work than this particularly attractive but otherwise convincing collective of Middle Eastern performers. It is their collaboration that lends this puzzle its density — their feeding off of one another’s rapidly deteriorating optimism as the mystery as to Elly’s whereabouts intensifies. You can almost disregard the English subtitles: context clues are less than subtle. It’s not difficult to see these people are reeling in the shock of how a fun trip could turn out so miserable. Finger pointing begins and won’t stop until all possible assumptions have been made.

About Elly has a bleeding heart for humanity. Subtle social faux pas become pivotal plot points. How one’s trust in another can be so easily betrayed; how a careless laugh might upset someone else who doesn’t understand the joke. How manners and customs seem completely alien to another person — this isn’t a direct reference to the western viewer of course, although that certainly applies as well — while also appearing roughly congruent to those of another society’s. (Familial love and acceptance, religious faith and civil obedience isn’t exactly a regional thing.)

That may be me reaching for themes that aren’t necessarily priorities for Farhadi, but extrapolation is totally a function of his ability to convince us this is all too real. Sure, it’s a product of Iranian culture but there’s something much more universal about the design. Even if the film took its sweet time to earn an international distribution, the quality of its contents more than justify why it absolutely deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 4.24.32 PM

Recommendation: Thought-provoking, deeply involving and emotionally devastating, About Elly is a rare breed of drama that places emphasis on humanity rather than melodrama. An absolute must-see for those trying to diversify their tastes in world cinema. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 119 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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27 thoughts on “About Elly

    • Cheers sir, I recommend it if you like your dramas believable and psychologically involving. About Elly is a superior film in both regards and I can’t wait to see more of Farhadi’s stuff if this is par for the course which is what I’ve heard it is

  1. Wow, what a sterling review Tom. This had crossed my radar but yours is the first review I’ve read and you’ve naturally sold it to me. Goodness, there are so many movies I need to watch; there’s never enough bloody time!

    • Here here! About Elly should be a priority if you’re trying to watch solid drama. Asghar Farhadi has this way about his directing that feels natural and empathetic to the points of view of multiple characters. This is a really impressive film and one that more people really should see. Thank goodness it did get an international distribution, even if it was 5 yrs late

  2. Asghar Farhadi is among the very best directors working today. This made a lot of “Best of 2015” lists (including mine).

    About Elly ran into difficulties when the original U.S. distributor went bankrupt not long after its premiere . New York based Cinema Guild stepped in and finally gave the film an official limited release in the U.S. in April 2015.

    • YEah I’m really glad I decided to pop this one in the other night. An extraordinary perceptive film and one that’s really empathetic to all characters involved. Loved it! Can’t wait to experience more of his stuff

    • It’s seriously one of the best movies I have ever seen. I know how crazy that sounds but you should check it out and see what you think. It’s incredibly true to real life and how people interact. The fact it features Iranian actors and is set in that country isn’t nearly as important as the message it sends about human relationships.

    • Thanks Cindy! It’s a towering achievement in my eyes. Deeply human story reveals much about both the differences in western/Middle Eastern cultures and similarities between the same. At least, that’s kind of what I took away from it. Not sure if that’s *specifically* what Farhadi was going for here

  3. Fabulous! Sooo glad you enjoyed this as much as I did. I think Farhadi is one of the greatest working filmmakers and About Elly shows it. Love it.

    • It is a real achievement in my eyes. I cannot believe this is something that is scripted, acted and directed. It really feels like real life playing out in front of us. I absolutely cannot wait to dig into his filmography more. Have you seen any of his others?

  4. Nice review Tom. Farhadi is one of the few directors who can portray an empathetic light onto all of his characters. I loved About Elly as much as I did A Separation and The Past and I can’t wait for Farhadi’s next work.

    • Thanks dude. Farhadi is an excellent filmmaker, agreed. (And this is an opinion i have formed after this one, my first experience watching his work.) I look forward to digging into more for sure. Would you recommend any of his previous efforts more highly than the other? I get the impression this guy puts out consistently compelling stuff

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