About Elly review

A Separation, by the sea

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We've all told little white lies, right? Harmless enough, we think. Until the moment when the lie turns round and severely bites us on the arse.

Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) tells lies. Not maliciously; she’s charming and vivacious, and she wants things to be nice for her and her friends. And if things aren’t quite how she wants them she’ll smile and tell little fibs to make them so.

She’s the unofficial leader of a group of old friends, three thirtysomething married couples living in Tehran, off for a villa weekend by the Caspian Sea. She’s persuaded her daughter’s teacher, the pretty but shy Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), to come along.

Also in the party is Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini), brother of Elly’s friend Naazi (Ra’na Azadivar) and recently divorced. Ahmad and Elly, thinks Sepideh, would be perfect for each other. Even if she has to do a little truth-bending to engineer the hook-up. But that’s where things start to go slightly – then disastrously – wrong.

Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s most recent movie, A Separation , picked up a ton of well-deserved awards, including this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar.

Made in 2009, About Elly was his previous film (it won a Silver Bear at Berlin) and it shares many of the same qualities: the shrewd, dispassionate eye for human foibles, the unobtrusively fluid camera, the skill at directing complex ensemble performances.

The film starts – literally – with yells of exuberance and, for about the first 40 minutes, spirits remain high as the friends, seemingly regressing to their college days, sing, dance, horse around and play party games. Which, when catastrophe strikes, makes the abrupt shift in mood all the more telling.

Farhadi manages the transition with utmost skill; a story that set out so joyously ends in recriminations and despair. And all without the help of music, apart from a poignant ‘Song For Elly’ over the final credits.

On the strength of these two films, Farhadi has established himself as a major player in Iranian cinema.

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