About Elly

About Elly, drama, not rated, in Persian with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 4 chiles

Pasatiempo - - HAPPENING IN MAY - — Jonathan Richards

One thing that will strike you as you watch this riv­et­ing drama of well-in­tended lies and un­in­tended con­se­quences is how nor­mal it seems. Not the story, which is in­tri­cate and tightly wo­ven. No, it’s the peo­ple. They’re young mid­dle-class Ira­ni­ans, spend­ing a week­end away from Tehran at a beach­side bun­ga­low on the Caspian Sea. But re­move the head­scarves and the Persian lan­guage, and this could eas­ily be hap­pen­ing in the Hamp­tons. An un­mis­tak­able take­away of As­ghar Farhadi’s mas­ter­ful thriller is to make it abun­dantly clear to Amer­i­can view­ers that — guess what? — Ira­ni­ans are a lot like us. The prob­a­ble au­di­ence for a movie like this may not need much con­vinc­ing, but there should be a re­quired screen­ing for Bibi Ne­tanyahu and the U.S. Congress. Farhadi is the Ira­nian direc­tor who copped an Os­car in 2012 with A

Sep­a­ra­tion, his mas­ter­ful dis­sec­tion of class and gen­der pol­i­tics in mod­ern Iran. About Elly was made three years ear­lier, and while it won fes­ti­val prizes at the time, in­clud­ing Best Nar­ra­tive Fea­ture at the Tribeca Film Fes­ti­val, it hasn’t found U.S. dis­tri­bu­tion un­til now.

A group of young mar­ried friends and their kids ar­rive at their sea­side des­ti­na­tion to dis­cover that, due to a mix-up, the place they had taken the year be­fore is un­avail­able. In­stead, they are given a di­lap­i­dated house on the beach, which they gamely un­der­take to make hab­it­able. The mix-up was avoid­able. Sepi­deh (Gol­shifteh Fara­hani), wife of Manoocher (Ah­mad Mehran­far) and or­ga­nizer of the week­end, knew of the prob­lem but was con­fi­dent she could work it out when they got there.

Sepi­deh is at the heart of ev­ery­thing that hap­pens, and ev­ery­thing that goes wrong. She’s a con­gen­i­tal spin­ner of white lies de­signed to make things smoother, and an in­cor­ri­gi­ble manager and ma­nip­u­la­tor. She is also beau­ti­ful and charm­ing, so she usu­ally gets away with it.

For this week­end, she has in­vited Elly (Taraneh Ali­doosti), her daugh­ter’s teacher, with the de­sign of mak­ing a match with Ah­mad (Sha­hab Hos­seini), a re­cently di­vorced friend. This plan re­quires a se­ries of lies, which Sepi­deh throws off ef­fort­lessly. But they come back to haunt her.

Elly is clearly un­com­fort­able in the sit­u­a­tion, and af­ter the first night she wants to leave. Sepi­deh won’t hear of it. While Sepi­deh is out at the store, one of the other women asks Elly to watch the chil­dren on the beach while she goes in­side. A lit­tle later, a child screams that a lit­tle boy is drown­ing. There is a har­row­ing res­cue. And when the cri­sis set­tles, Elly is nowhere to be found. Has she drowned? Has she left?

Farhadi sows the ques­tions and builds the ten­sion as more lies and com­pli­ca­tions emerge, and the sit­u­a­tion spi­rals into a night­mare of doubt and fear. His cast is ter­rific, with spe­cial ku­dos to Fara­hani’s con­flicted Sepi­deh. For film buffs, the story will mur­mur echoes of An­to­nioni’s L’Avven­tura. But Farhadi makes it into some­thing all his own.

In an NPR in­ter­view, he made it clear that show­ing the sim­i­lar­ity of Ira­ni­ans and Western­ers was an in­ten­tional thrust of his film. “I don’t want to be­come a po­lit­i­cal spokesman; that’s not what I do,” he said. “I’m a film­maker. But when­ever pos­si­ble in my films, if I can al­low peo­ple to un­der­stand each other and for cul­tures to come to­gether, I would do that.”

Pretty please: Gol­shifteh Fara­hani

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