Disclaimer: This is my first attempt to write a review in full English as my submission for Beauty is a Sleeping Cat's 'World Cinema Series 2013'. So bear with me if there's any grammar mistakes or something like that. For all my fellow Indonesian bloggers, come join the fun!
Review: After being mesmerized by Asghar Farhadi's incredible marital/social/courtroom drama, A Separation (2011), and picked it as my favorite film last year, I've been wanting to watch About Elly for a while. About Elly (Darbareye Elly), is the Iranian director's previous film before A Separation, which won him Berlinale's Golden Bear and an Oscar. About Elly also won a lot of accolades, including Berlinale's Silver Bear for Best Director at the time of its premiere. The story centers around a group of friends (who also former law school classmates) and their vacation at the cottage by the beach. They are Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) and her husband Amir (Mani Haghighi); Shohreh (Merila Zarei) and husband Peyman (Peyman Moaadi); Nazzie (Rana Azadivar) and husband Manuchrer (Ahmad Mehranfar). But there's something unusual about this vacation; Sepideh brought along her daughter's school teacher, Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), with the intention of setting her up with the recently divorced member of the group, Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini). The holiday kicked off with a joyful atmosphere, with singing, playing games, smoking shisha, dancing and even joking around about the supposedly 'matchmaking' process of Ahmad and Elly. Unfortunately, the happy times were short-lived as an accident occurred and the fate of Elly was left unknown
Same like its successor, About Elly started with a seemingly mundance activity. The first thirty minute went without any serious conflicts or even arguments. Maybe Elly's background and the blunt 'marriage' teasing Sepideh & co tried to pull towards the innocent Elly and Ahmad can keep the audience guessing how it will continue. It might be a bit boring for some, but the 'clues' are actually shown in the earlier scenes and actually builds up the characters. Then, after the tragedy happened, suddenly all hell breaks loose. I won't necessarily tell you about what happened, cause it's more fun that way. One thing I can say is that the way this accident happened is one of the most breathtaking and intense scenes I've seen in a film. Similar also with A Separation, Farhadi wanted to underline the danger of lies, even the little and somewhat harmless ones. At the beginning, we'll see how Sepideh didn't tell her husband and friends that the cottage was full, hoping that after they arrived, they'll find a new place. Even after they found one, she also told the housekeeper that one of them is on their honeymoon in order to 'smooth things up'. Throughout the film, it was revealed Sepideh and also Elly have something that they didn't share to the rest. To be honest, I think the so-called lies these people told were really harmless. But to cover a lie, what people need is another lie. And that's the problem. It's scary to know that these little lies could worsen the already devastating accident. Kudos to Farhadi for making a story so believable and not turning it into a contrived script.
About Elly also raised an issue of perception, similar again to A Separation. I'm sorry if I have to compare these two over and over again, it's just they both have the same theme. The contrast was really clear before and after the accident happened. How the accident affect the characters and how they reacted towards it. There's a quote from one of the characters that goes like this, "A bitter ending is better than an endless bitterness". Endless bitterness was the exact atmosphere of these characters for the two thirds of the film, as they don't really know exactly what happened to Elly. Then, they started to blame each other (or themselves) and tried to guess what went wrong or remembering what things they said or did that could have caused any misunderstanding. And I like how Farhadi also didn't forget to include the cultural and moral issue here, regarding the status of Elly and the status of husband & wife itself. Aside from Peyman Moaadi who also starred in A Separation, I'm not familiar with all of the actors in this film. For all I know, they can be amateurs or even veterans of Iranian cinema. What I know is these actors played really well, even the kids. It's so easy to sympathize (or even blame) each and every character, cause they portrayed the characters in the most humane way possible.
Overview: Although About Elly has a few similarities with A Separation, I still think they both can stand on their own as two very great films. Asghar Farhadi really knows how to turn the usually boring and dull daily activity into a tragic and complex story and character study. About Elly might started as that mundane vacation some families take. But once the accident happens, that holiday shifted into one disastrous trip. Even though the fate of the titular character was revealed at the end, I think it's not really the point of this film. Farhadi wanted to emphasize more on how little lies can turn into bigger problems and how uncertainty and perception can bring people into, well...endless bitterness. And Farhadi did a great job writing and directing it. What a tough, yet incredible film.
About Elly (Darbareye Elly — 2009) | Iran | 119 minutes | Drama, Mystery | Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Mani Haghighi, Merila Zarei, Peiman Ma'adi, Ahmad Mehranfar, Rana Azadivar, Saber Abar | Written by: Asghar Farhadi (script), Azad Jafarian (story) | Directed by: Asghar Farhadi