Article/ Chronicle of a Disappearance: About Elly

The release of Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly cements his reputation as a world-class filmmaker

By Ailsa Ferrier 

Asghar Farhadi first came to the attention of the UK audience, and indeed the world, with his powerful 2011 drama A Separation, which went on to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. The writer-director’s previous film, About Elly, is finally released here. It is another intricate story that explores themes of morality and social dynamics, this time between a group of middle class Iranian friends.

About Elly follows three families who travel together to the Caspian Sea for a holiday in a dilapidated villa. The group are joined by a young woman, Elly, whom one of the women, Sepideh, knows through her child’s kindergarten. This buoyant and jovial group make the most of their faded beachside retreat, but after one night Elly, still intends to return, as planned, to Tehran. Sepideh is intent on setting her up with one of the men in the group and tries to stop her leaving. A series of events follow, culminating in Elly’s disappearance. Unsure as to whether Elly has drowned or left for Tehran on her own accord, the group are plunged into a grief-stricken panic, especially as they begin to realise how little they know about their companion. Farhadi’s storytelling ratchets up the tension, as he dissects notions of responsibility and truth, observing the unintentional cruelty of an insular group towards an outsider, whilst commenting on the extent to which we attempt to influence the fate of others.

The universality of Farhadi’s approach bears comparison to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the noir-tinged fiction of Patricia Highsmith. And yet, the filmmaker never loses touch with the culture within which this drama unfolds. The democratic decision-making process lies at the heart of the conflict, compounded by conventions, etiquette and boundaries that exist between men and women. Continually, the group returns to its concern over Elly’s honour in light of their uncertainty over her marital situation, accentuated by Farhadi’s emphasis on reaction to events rather than the events themselves; the interpretation of what happened is what’s important here. The presence of the children, like those in Farhadi’s later film, only further underline the dishonesty at play, although the director is too astute to offer up an easy target. No one here is really right or wrong.

Hossein Jafarian’s frenetic camerawork accentuates the constant flux in pace and the tension of the situation. The deserted house and landscape, initially appearing dream-like in their cosy isolation, transforms into a decaying prison from which the increasingly weary and paranoid group are unable to leave.

This whip-smart story of class, gender, social interference and misjudgment would not be out of place in an Austen novel. There is no doubt that this is narrative cinema at its most sophisticated, re-affirming Farhadi as one of the most assured filmmakers working today.

With thanks to Curzon Cinemas

About Elly screens at Cornerhouse from Fri 19 October. For details click here.