The Blind Date Vanishes (Film Review: “About Elly”)

When this tautly filmed ensemble drama began, I thought it would present itself like a Middle Eastern version of The Big Chill, maybe with less laughs and fewer hit singles. How wrong I was.

SnapShot Plot

About Elly is a surprisingly riveting mystery which takes place over one weekend when a group of friends from Tehran go on a holiday to the Caspian Sea, with a lovely newcomer invited to tag along as a possible love interest for one of the friends who is newly divorced. Taraneh Alidoosti gives a gentle performance as Elly, the shy teacher who’s accepted the invitation from the beautiful and headstrong Sepideh (in a translucent portrayal by Golshifteh Farahani), whose own husband knows nothing of his wife’s matchmaking scheme. And although this is very much an ensemble cast, the story and the movie really belong to Sepideh, as she’s the causal factor in everything that transpires, the one keeping all the secrets, the one whose plan ultimately turns tragic. Enough said about the plot, though, as this film is best experienced with the least knowledge in advance.



Parting Shot

It’s taken several years for this 2009 film to make it to U.S. theatres, and its distribution as a streaming title on Netflix may owe a lot to the fact that writer/director, Asghar Farhadi won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2011 for his movie, A Separation.  And while many movies from Iran can be characterized by their emphasis on themes of political or sexual oppression (not to mention terrorism) what Farhadi focuses on in his films is the rich tapestry of Middle Class Iranian culture and family dynamics. In About Elly, in fact, as much as we’re perplexed by the question mark of this woman’s disappearance, we are simultaneously fascinated by the dynamics of this modern group of intelligent and educated friends. From a Westerner’s perspective, anything Middle Eastern smacks of the exotic, the strange, the backward, no matter the context. Of course this impression smacks of a certain degree of American naïveté, as well as a good dose of geopolitical mistrust, to be sure. So it comes as a refreshing departure when we see people very similar to ourselves, in similar marriages and friendships, raising children in similarly loving and protective environments. I actually smiled when I saw the women wearing jeans and sneakers under their Islamic dress, and saw that even though they might be more traditional in their marital gender roles, at heart these wives, mothers and girlfriends weren’t very different than us.

Having said that, and without getting too preoccupied from the central mystery which lies at the core of About Elly, the film can also resonate as a tragic metaphor for a culture of deceit. Even before the action heats up, little white lies begin accumulating, which will rear their ugly heads later on as they are misinterpreted through a sinister lens of mystery. Rather than fessing up to what’s really going on, this group engages in lie after lie, entangling themselves in a web of cover-ups and alibis in the name of Honor, all the while incriminating themselves ever more deeply, with Sepideh always – ruefully –  at the center. And in this tale, the center cannot hold.

About Elly is presently streaming on Netflix.

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