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Film Review

About Elly

Since the Islamic Revolution (1979), the film industry in Iran has been constrained by the extreme religious orthodoxy of the government. Iran had long had a flourishing film industry, but many directors fled after the revolution, while other stayed and continued to make films. Ironically, many of their films are forbidden to be screened in Iran, but despite these barriers Iran has produced a number of outstanding films in the past 30 years. Abbas Kiarostami, arguably the greatest of all Iranian directors, immediately comes to mind. His The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) is widely considered a masterpiece and perhaps the finest film ever produced by an Iranian director. Asghar Farhadi is another very accomplished Iranian director and screenwriter whose last three films have been highly praised, with many awards. A Separation (2011) won an Oscar for best foreign language film, and his The Past won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2013. His latest film, About Elly, has just opened here (despite being completed 5 years ago) and has already won a number of European awards, including a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Farhadi's films are often psychological dramas of family relationships and their accommodation or conflict with orthodox Iranian society. His actors are always very natural and seem not to be acting while his camera work is notable..

About Elly opens with three cars full of Iranian couples, college friends and some with children, exhilarated because they are headed for a long weekend at a beach side villa. The three couples include Sepidah, a wife, who has invited her young son's very attractive school teacher, Elly, along for the weekend. Elly is single and Sepidah is trying to introduce her to Ahmad, who has just flown in from Germany after a bitter divorce. Everyone is in high spirits, singing and dancing, even when they discover that the villa they were going to rent is not available. They have to settle for another one that is filthy with broken windows but right on a beautiful beach. But Sepidah rallies everyone and soon all pitch in to clean and make the house habitable. Ahmad does notice Elly, but Elly seems quite shy, even mysterious, and insistent that she can only spend one night there. Because Iran is so religiously conservative, Sepidah has told the woman who manages the rentals that Elly and Ahmad are a newly married couple. Thus one white lie leads to others, some with unexpected consequences. In fact, this film should be titled Secrets and Lies (with due respect to Mike Leigh). Each lie seems to require another until the couples are arguing furiously about events and responsibility. The day after everyone arrives, an accident happens, and begins to set off a tragic chain of events. The troubles are compounded as everyone's first impulse is to lie rather than tell the truth. The pacing is slow at first, then the story gains momentum and power. As in his other films, Farhadi shows us the collision between modernity and tradition in Iran and the awful consequences for all.

None of the actors are familiar to Western audiences, but they are all outstanding, even the young children. His cinematography is sophisticated with careful attention to each character. And like other Farhadi films, the only music occurs at the very end as the credits scroll. His films also seem to be the Iranian equivalent of Italian neorealist style except that Farhadi's characters are educated middle and upper middle class progressive Iranians. About Elly is understated and not showy, yet a very accomplished, powerful film with striking insights into Iranian society.

Just opened at Opera Plaza, the Shattuck (Berkeley), and the Camera (San Jose). Running time: 118 minutes. Many have asked what happened to the film reviews for the past three months. We returned in late April from a six week road trip in Vietnam and Cambodia, then took far longer to catch up than expected. Hopefully will get back in the groove, and looking forward to more good films. Did see Tangerines, Felix & Meira, The Salt of the Earth, and Iris, the last two documentaries, all four films deserving of reviews, but didn't have the time to write.

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