“A bitter ending is better than an endless bitterness.”
About Elly is sort of a breath of fresh air within the world of Asghar Farhadi. Anyone familiar with his work knows he gained quite a bit of notoriety with his last two films (A Separation & The Past) which were, in my opinion, slight variations of the same story – a realistic look at a deteriorating marriage seen mostly through the eyes of the (soon to be) ex-husband and his young daughter (class often plays the backdrop in Farhadi’s cinema as well).
Even Farhadi’s 2006 film Fireworks Wednesday is a realistic (and sometimes grueling) drama about the nooks & crannies between two people that can either make or break a relationship. One could go so far as to say Asgar Farhadi is a modern-day master of the strained relationship drama.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with a filmmaker exploring the same themes over and over. I mean, this is something most filmmakers do (some are just better at it than others). But when the films are SO similar, like in the case of Asgar Farhadi, things start to feel a little redundant after a while. About Elly is proof that Farhadi has the ability to branch outside of his comfort zone and experiment with various genres (within the same film) that aren’t often associated with his brand of filmmaking.
In the film we follow a large group of friends (mostly married couples) on vacation together near the Caspian sea. What starts out as a potentially lighthearted drama/romance in the vein of a random Richard Gere movie from the 90’s (two of the characters in the large group of vacationers are single and have been invited along with hopes of being “set-up” with each other) eventually turns in to a noir-ish psychological drama involving the near tragic death of a small child and the sudden disappearance of one of the main characters.
Then, if mixing four different genres together isn’t already enough, the tone of the film shifts again in the final act and we’re suddenly thrown into a sociopolitical story about the shackles of marriage and the Iranian laws concerning men & women.
What’s so great about this film is how Farhadi seamlessly transitions from one thing to the next without changing the overall style of the film every thirty minutes. In fact, the (consistent) style & ambiance of About Elly is fairly nontraditional when compared to other films that travel in the same lane (at least on paper). Often times when we think about noirs & psychological dramas we have this ideal of overly stylish David Fincher-esque tales where the plot is convoluted for no real legitimate reason. But that’s not the case with About Elly (although I will say it does share a few similarities with the good qualities of Gone Girl). From start to finish Asgar Farhadi maintains the same naturalistic/domga-esque style of filmmaking (in a non-pretentious way), which makes the story believable. We don’t get any sleek stylish shots or sudden plot twists that come out of nowhere. In fact, a large majority of About Elly takes place outside by the beach during the daytime which adds an interesting contrast to the tension our characters are forced to deal with (the beach, ocean or large bodies of water are often used as a backdrop in art-house cinema to convey calmness or peacefulness, but not here…)
From the synopsis you can see that the relationship dynamic is still prevalent for Farhadi, however it’s not as important to the story as in his other films. There are definitely moments that touch on the dynamic between husband & wife, but About Elly is more in line with something like 12 Angry Men (the exploration of important decision making and the shift of power within a large group of people) or Knife In The Water (the sudden disappearance of a mysterious character with a checkered past who may or may not have been telling the truth about themselves).
About Elly could potentially be enjoyed by even the most casual movie fan who just loves a good noir/mystery and isn’t turned off by subtitles or the dreaded “art-house” label. Besides the similarities to Gone Girl, About Elly isn’t that much different (on paper) from certain aspects of Identity or even I Know What You Did Last Summer. In fact, this is the perfect film for young Gen X-ers and older millennials who matured and grew out of those aforementioned films but are still intrigued by a good mystery.