Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Review: ABOUT ELLY...

Simmering tensions and questions of honour enshroud a group of Iranian friends and their young families as they visit a villa by the sea. The eponymous Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), one of the children’s teachers and friend of central female figure Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani), is invited along with the group as a potential suitor for one of their number but things fall apart when she disappears during a flurry of potentially fatal activity.
What begins relatively sedately gradually shifts to something more uneasy. Suspense is ratcheted up little by little as more revelations about the missing woman, and her acquaintances, come to light. By the time of the third act it is heart in mouth stuff. The sense of unease created through characterisation alone is palpable.
Accusation and apportioning of blame is the focus of much of what transpires but, as all that is happening, human frailty is exposed. It never explodes in the way that you might expect. Guilt manifests in various guises with each character choosing to cope in a different way. The ensemble seems all-encompassing while never seeming artificially forced together to satisfy a need for different types.
While not a thriller in a traditional sense, it has enough of those elements to make it thrilling. It has more to say about domestic life in Iran than it does the story of a missing person. Featuring some of the cast from Asghar Farhadi's later work, A Separation, the performances are all pitched at exactly the right balance of natural and heightened.
The dynamics between the different couples which make up the party are fascinatingly rendered. The interplay among, and between, couples can swivel at a moment’s notice. Where you might expect the female characters to languish among such strong male interaction, their characters are forcefully well realised. No one sex is more culpable than another when it comes to the problems encountered but the gender balance comes into play in enthralling ways.
Farhadi is proving himself a force in world cinema capable of telling intense human stories with a minimum of fuss and scarcely a frame wasted in telling the emotional story behind the events.
Overcast skies and expressionistically colourless vistas aren’t maybe what you’d associate with a Persian landscape but they’re used to great effect here from the moment the film’s pivotal event takes place. The cinematography has a satisfyingly loose style that fits the flux of the action and is ramped up when needed, most notably during an anxious rescue.
It's rich and textured in a completely unhurried way and for those unfamiliar with the inner workings of Iranian society it's a fascinating insight. Emotionally mature and occasionally agonising, it's a work of quiet tragedy that rarely sets a foot wrong.

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