Friday, November 06, 2015

About Elly (Darbareye Elly)

ABOUT ELLY (DARBAREYE ELLY) (Asghar Farhadi, 2009)

A weekend at a seaside villa turns tense when one member of a group disappears in ABOUT ELLY. Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) arranges for three couples, their kids, an unmarried friend, and her daughter’s teacher to get away from Tehran for some relaxation. Her ulterior motivation for the trip is to introduce Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini), who lives in Germany and divorced his wife, to shy teacher Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti). Although Elly appears to be having a good time, she insists that she can only stay one night. She may want to get back to her mother, who is recovering from a recent heart attack, or she may be uncomfortable with the jokes and subtle pressure to pair off with Ahmad.

When everyone realizes that Elly has vanished, the question is whether she walked to town to catch a bus or drowned trying to save one of the kids who had been playing by the shore and was pulled away by the turbulent sea. They have reason to believe that either outcome is possible, but with no body found and no way of contacting her, the answer remains elusive. As the friends scramble to determine how they should proceed in the situation, they act rashly and assign blame to one another.

The final shot of ABOUT ELLY features a car spinning its wheels as the friends try to push it out of a rut in the beach. The image rhymes with their actions throughout the film. The more effort they put into expedient resolutions of the problems they confront, the deeper they get stuck in them. Writer-director Asghar Farhadi creates the quagmire out of small lies and deceptions. This excursion is rooted in deceit. The individual untruths and misleadings may not seem problematic at the time they are uttered, but the accumulation of them forms a quicksand that tugs them further into the morass.

Farhadi’s intricate yet efficient screenplay showcases his watchmaker-like ability for setting a story in motion and having the moving pieces operate in accordance beautifully. ABOUT ELLY monitors eight adults plus kids and the dynamics among them. As it would be for Elly, a stranger among intimates, there’s a lot for the viewer to process in the introduction to these characters. Farhadi’s observational style doesn’t waste a shot in providing all of the information needed to understand the complex interactions.

The remarkable screenplay makes ABOUT ELLY seem like it could translate well to the stage, yet it boasts strengths particular to filmmaking. The roar of the sea reminds of the trouble that awaits but blends into the background until it must be dealt with. Editor Hayedeh Safiyari’s cuts from scene to scene aren’t confusing but raise some uncertainty of how the action advances from one point to the next. The technique reflects the disorientation the group feels upon realizing the mess they’ve ended up in. In a subtle but dazzling transition, the opening shot inside a charity box as money is dropped through the slot becomes light in a tunnel. Both images suggest the danger of not understanding what one thinks is seen with a limited perspective.

ABOUT ELLY debuted in 2009 but remained unreleased in the United States because of rights issues. Like Farhadi’s great subsequent film, A SEPARATION, this thriller thrives on how scenarios unravel as individuals take measures to protect their self-interests.

Grade: A

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