It took five years but finally the US distribution rights for Asghar Farhadi’s “About Elly” were acquired bringing the highly acclaimed 2009 film to American theaters in 2015. These distribution wranglings and roadblocks are frustrating to say the least especially in this case. “About Elly” has received a ton of critical praise and has won numerous notable awards, yet it has lingered out of reach of many anxious cinephiles.
Farhadi, who I will go ahead and call one of the best international filmmakers going, has actually made two films since the release of “About Elly”, one being his searing Oscar-winning drama “A Separation”. You can see some of the same artistic strokes being used in both movies and the Iranian filmmaker’s soulful human explorations and subtle societal critiques are fundamental components to each. But at the same time “About Elly” differentiates itself in a variety of interesting ways while still maintaining Farhadi’s impeccable knack for mesmerizing and relevant storytelling.
One such difference can be found in the openings. “A Separation” begins with a tense and solemn meeting with a family court judge. A husband and wife are preparing to end 14 years of marriage. Contrast that with the opening of “About Elly”. The first scene shows friends playfully yelling out their car windows while driving through a highway tunnel. The group is heading to the Caspian Sea for fun-filled three-day vacation. Two drastically different scenarios yet over time Farhadi’s distinct signature can be seen on both.
With “About Elly” it’s definitely a case of ‘the less you know the better’. The film sets itself up by offering us introductions to the characters and showing their whimsical enthusiasm. After all, they’re on vacation. Everyone seems excited yet there is something different about Elly (eloquently played by Taraneh Alidoosti). She feels like a bit of an outsider – apprehensive and reserved. Turns out Elly was invited by Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) in hopes that she would hit it off with recently divorced Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini).
In a cagey bit of foreshadowing the group must navigate a mishap with their reservations which threatens to derail their vacation. In this brief sequence we get a handful of subtle clues which play into how things unfold. Things finally get back on track and they land a place to stay at a seaside villa. They get settled in, Elly remains a bit of a mystery, and everyone starts to have a good time. That is until a key moment sends Farhadi’s story spinning and his characters along with their relationships are seen under a new light.
There is a biting naturalistic harmony to Farhadi’s storytelling that uses plot twists and character complexities like pieces to an elaborate moral puzzle. At the same time, with every layer of the story that is peeled away we gain new insights into who these people are while also being challenged by various social critiques. Farhadi is never heavy-handed and he’s never preachy to the detriment of the story he’s telling.
Watching “About Elly” is a near hypnotic experience whether it’s the fascinating mystery akin to Antonioni’s brilliant “L’Avventura” or the stimulating character study/morality play that puts each character under a microscope. As with his previous work, Asghar Farhadi injects this film with such authenticity and truth. Not a single character feels fake. Not a single emotion feels false. Not a single plot point feels contrived. It’s truth that permeates this entire picture which is a little ironic. In the film it’s the truth that proves to be the hardest thing for the characters to embrace. Not so for Farhadi.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS
Nice review Keith. I too have loved Farhadi’s work (A Separation and The Past are two of the best movies I’ve seen in recent years). Good to hear this doesn’t disappoint, I’ve been really looking forward to seeing this.
It’s fantastic. It falls right in with Farhadi’s other work. You definitely need to seek this one out. That guy is a master storyteller.
So I saw this available as a download on iTunes but I skipped over it because I wasn’t sure if I had the money on my gift card to download it. But I’ll double-check that because this is just another stellar review (meaning, a positive one as well as being well-written) for this film. I’m glad to see it is available now to me. I can’t wait to get into it.
It is sooo good Tom. A must see. I really am tempted to move it to a 5 star rating. It’s so well structured and the story is expertly told. Farhadi is an incredible filmmaker. See it!!!!
Fantastic to hear. It’s not often I see the full 5-star rating earned here on this site! 😀
I’m a stingy cuss. I think sometimes I make getting a 5 star score almost impossible! Need to work on that! 😉
Despite some people saying ratings are arbitrary, I think they’re a good measure of people’s tastes. I often feel the opposite to you, like I hand out full 8/8 scores a bit too easily. The Gift was one I recently deliberated on for some time but the more I thought about it the more I really felt that earned that kind of praise. I always have fun picking out those scores though, in the end.
I have never had a problem with ratings. They do vary from site to site as different writers, bloggers, or critics view their scale differently. But I enjoy seeing ratings that complement a well written review.
Wonderful review. I will have to check this out! I love your attention to foreign films. I appreciate that about your blog.
Thank you so much Cindy. You MUST see this film. I mentioned to Tom that it may get bumped to five stars. It’s so good and it has stuck with me since seeing it. Did you see Farhadi’s “A Seperation” by chance?
Nope. I am ignorant. I have to change that. I appreciate learning from you.
I think you would really appreciate Farhadi’s style of storytelling. It’s so truthful and compelling on a human level.
Good review Keith. Sounds like a good film to watch
A truly must-see. So glad it FINALLY made its way to the States. Hope you get a chance to see it.
Brilliant. So happy to see you championing it.
It deserves to be championed. Outstanding film. Farhadi is such a great storyteller.
This sounds intriguing. I loved A Separation.
Then you will absolutely love this. It’s clearly different than “A Separation”and you sense that early on, but the same style of intensely authentic filmmaking and storytelling is the same. You really need to see it.
I’ve been waiting for this movie for years but I could never actually find it, will see it as soon as I can.
It is sooooo good. As I mentioned to someone else, I’m considering bumping it up to 5 stars. Can’t wait to see it again now that it has finally started getting past some of the distribution problems.
That’s great to hear.
I think i’ll like it because I’m a big fan of Iranian cinema in general and I’ve liked both of Farhadi’s other two films
If that’s the case you’ll really like this one. Farhadi’s fingerprints are all over it.
It’s a bit amusing to me that one of my favorite movies of 2015….came out in 2009.
Exactly! I have said the same thing. Such is the craziness of distribution sometimes.
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Beautiful review. I could really appreciate how grounded this story was. As you say, there was nothing contrived it all felt so organic and natural. Farhadi is unbelievably talented. Glad I stumbled across his work and can’t wait to sink my teeth into his other films beyond this one.
Thank you and I love hearing your enthusiasm. His movies are very truthful and organic. Nothing feels overly dramatic or contrived. And his dialogue is so rich. He was nominated for a foreign language Oscar this year. Unfortunately The Salesman still hasn’t come out in my area!