REVIEW: About Elly

30 05 2016

About EllyThe strange case of Asghar Farhadi’s quick rise to stateside prominence means that his previously unreleased ’00s films are only just being dusted off and released in America. If one believes that directors get better over time (as I do), then the more of Farhadi’s work that we see, the less impressive he looks.

Such is the somewhat awkward experience of watching his “About Elly,” which premiered in 2009 but did not wash up ashore in the U.S. until 2015. It’s still an impressive achievement, to be clear, and one can easily see how the film is cut from the same cloth as his later masterpieces “A Separation” and “The Past.” But here, he has yet to fine-tune the approach that would make him a vital force of the world cinematic stage.

There has always been an element of dramaturgy to Farhadi’s work, though “About Elly” shows far greater roots in the stage tradition. The events begin with a contrivance – a group of friendly couples headed to a beachside escape together. It feels less of a natural occurrence and more like a clearly plotted setup for dramatic events to happen.

And yes, things do happen, both dramatic and revealing. Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) makes a controversial decision to bring along the unmarried Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti) in the hopes of playing matchmaker and pairing her off with their recently divorced friend (Shahab Hosseini). Of course, in Farhadi’s worlds, a calculated risk – no matter how small – always ends up opening a massive can of worms. Choices come to not only reflect an individual’s will but rather their very role in society and how it confines them on narrow demographic categories – gender, class or relationship status.

Eventually, “About Elly” does yield the kind of deep insights and raw emotion that audiences come to expect from Farhadi. It might not feel as naturally occuring, but it is there nonetheless. And if this is the rough draft necessary for the writer/director to eventually craft a magnum opus … well, this is the one of the smoothest roughs to date. B+3stars

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