About Elly starts as a very simple tale but as it moves ahead, it turns out to be quite a twisted one. The film starts with a group howling inside a tunnel as the car drives through it, the light on the other side of the tunnel will only expose the truths that have been kept secret.
The film has been compared to Antonioni's L'avventura, but I found it more similar to Mike Leigh's Secret & Lies. Any person often keeps secret to keep themselves happy or to maintain their honor, but when put on the spot, not only the secrets but the entire character of the person is exposed, which would be difficult to comprehend otherwise. And it is not just Elly whose character is exposed but almost every individual in the group and especially Sepideh. Sepideh looks like just another female from the group but right from the beginning, we realize her to be an important character. No we don't have any close-ups or the camera focusing on her most of the time to convey this detail. Kieslowski once said about casting that an actor must have a presence on the screen, he said 'Some people have a 'presence on the screen, others don't', he would find this out by filming a group of people in one shot and for some reason the attention of the audience is drawn to one specific person. Golshifteh Farahani who plays Sepideh is a perfect example of a person with a presence. Asghar Farhadi never puts his camera closer to any person for no reason, his camera is always motivated by his actors moving across the spaces, and from the beginning, even when the film has not descended to those lower depths where we could pinpoint a person, our attention is almost always drawn towards Sepideh even though Elly is the titular character.
As much as an intense drama this film is, it is also a sort of thriller and the most thrilling moment comes at the end of the very first act. About Elly takes a very different route when compared to the history of Iranian Cinema. Unlike the rural folks that the films of Iran often focus on, About Elly exposes the bourgeois class of Iran and yet it raises questions about the Iranian culture or the gender equality like many of its predecessors did. Here are sophisticated people driving BMWs and Peugeots, wearing Denim and T-shirts and having a beach side picnic, and these same sophisticated people when stuck in a sticky situation start blaming each other under the pretense of working towards a solution. Well for solution, there is a scene in the end where they are trying to pull out one of their cars stuck in the mud at the beach which pretty much explains us their situation. But this film is not about those solutions, it is about how far would we go to save our asses, for good as well as for selfish reasons.
It has become a cliche to say a film has many layers. But the layers here are made up of lies and secrets. And with every layer being peeled off, we see a new reality, and the morality of every reality unfolded is for us to determine. The plot is too dense for me to discuss here but Farhadi has brilliantly portrayed the crumbling relationships under the heap of lies and deceit.
The use of space is phenomenal in this film, at the center of this mysterious event is a villa, with smaller rooms in it and with windows of broken glasses. As though the secrets are locked in these rooms (sometimes literally, like the bag and the phone) and as the characters emerge out of each room, so does the secrets. The film is mostly shot in and around in this villa with long takes using excellent staging. And while one is deeply involved it is hard to notice that a two shot has turned into a close-up and then into a wide shot. The camera mostly follow the characters as they move within the space, and the staging is so meticulous that the shifting viewpoint of camera is almost invisible as it shifts from one character to another. The film also only uses natural sound and no music except for the ending credits. The film is not only cinematic but also very realistic, it is an honest portrayal of the events that occur during the course of the film. It is as though having a first hand experience of these events whilst being in the midst of it.
“A bitter ending is better than an endless bitterness”, One of the characters quotes his divorced wife, the bitterness here comes mostly from human nature than the catastrophe and About Elly is a brilliant introspective into such human nature.