Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Opens April 8 at Film Forum
A seaside ballet of tension and disquietude, About Elly has just made it to the States, though the drama won Asghar Farhadi a Silver Bear for Best Director back in 2009. Since then, the Iranian filmmaker’s A Separation and The Past have impressed both critics and audiences here—and rightfully so. Farhadi’s training in theatre comes across on the screen as an abiding interest in time, itself his chosen medium. All three of the recent films render the complicated choreography of married life precisely, accounting for drastic missteps—divorce, death, miscellaneous destruction—which seem increasingly inevitable as tangled personal histories come to light. From Paris to Tehran, all of Farhadi’s married and unmarried characters are balancing on a broken ankle.
In this iteration, eight friends—three married couples, the recently divorced, mostly expatriated Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini), and Elly, a schoolteacher—are heading for a weekend at the Caspian Sea, small children in tow. Vivacious Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) has persuaded Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), her son’s teacher, to join them. But though the couples are all youngish professionals, not far removed from more carefree days—they joyride through tunnels, play charades, are casual enough about their plans that their accommodations end up being a dilapidated, isolated villa—Elly is even younger, unmarried, and previously unknown to all the rest. She’s also visibly unsure of the role she’s supposed to play here, and the first one she ends up taking on is that of wife—this is Iran, so unrelated singles like Elly and Ahmad can’t officially stay together in the villa.
Matchmaking Sepideh seems to hope the lie, told to their landlords, is temporary; a prophecy rather than a deception of the kind urbane Iranians engage in daily to circumvent a constricting code of laws. But stranded among grown-ups unwilling to make grown-up decisions, Elly must ultimately play the victim—left alone with the kids, she disappears, and a boy nearly drowns. Mutual recriminations rend the group, and literally suck the color out of Sepideh—she pales, stumbling between sea and shore like a wraith. As anxious men and women waltz in and out of shots, the ocean drones on the background: a passionless reminder that the tide will always rise at its set time.