Taraneh Alidoosti as the title character in About Elly, exclusively at the IFI
This tense domestic mystery from Iran begins with a little white lie. Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani, superb), a beautiful young mother, has orchestrated a weekend away at a Caspian seaside resort with a group of friends. The party comprises three well- heeled couples, all former classmates from law school, and their small children.
Also traveling is Ahmad, an old friend lately returned to Iran from a failed marriage in Germany, and Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), who teaches Sepideh’s daughter at kindergarten. The latter is a surprising inclusion, but Sepideh is determined to play matchmaker.
Sure enough, Elly and Ahmad seem to hit it off, and the entire group are soon making merry with mock wedding plans and ringing endorsements. “She’s warm and calm,” notes patriarchal Amir (Mani Haghighi), as if evaluating a fluffy kitten pageant. “She’s healthy,” nods his friend, as if evaluating livestock.
We’re aware that Elly isn’t entirely comfortable with the attention: she lingers in the kitchen and keeps taking air outside. “The poor thing is embarrassed,” tuts one of the women. Still, Elly’s apparent mortification can’t account for her subsequent disappearance. Or can it? This is, after all, a country policed according to a strict moral code.
The friends search for their missing guest only to discover that not everything is as it seems. Lies soon beget more lies. The group squirm under pressure then finally implode. Recriminations fly along gender lines. “She got me to raise her hand to her,” cries exasperated wife-beater Amir.
Asghar Farhadi’s sneaky 2009 thriller arrives here almost by default in the wake of the director’s international hit, A Separation. We’re not sure how About Elly ever slipped through the net. The film won Farhadi the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 59th Berlin Film Festival and was voted the fourth greatest Iranian movie of all time by the national society of Iranian critics in 2010.
We’re not inclined to argue. Farhadi’s fourth feature is a smuggler’s big score. We’re accustomed to seeing Iranian political realities on screen; here they take on the qualities of a menacing MacGuffin. Sexual inequalities are rarely centre-stage in the manner of Offside or Circumstance. Instead, we get a drip-feed of awful realisations that ultimately coalesce into a classic Twelve Angry Men showdown.
Hossein Jafarian's clear, fluid lensing completes the illusion of naturalistic drama while the weasly screenplay plays Hitchcockian games with a vanishing lady and the mullahs. TARA BRADY