Golshifteh Farahani in a scene from Asghar Farhadi's About Elly, courtesy of Cinema Guild
One of the signs that our future may turn out to be OK after all for me is watching the upward trend on the types of films that secure distribution in the US.
When I got an invitation to watch a preview of Asghar Farhadi's About Elly (Darbareh Elly) I was elated. Double elated as I've been yearning to watch Farhadi's film since it was made back in 2009, when it won top prizes both at Berlinale and the Tribeca Film Festival. Make that triple elated because About Elly will have its US theatrical premiere on April 8th, at the legendary Film Forum in NYC.
Here's to hoping that one of the greatest side effects of the recently signed Iran nuclear deal may turn out to be the timely distribution of Iranian films at a faster pace than say... Six years after they are made!
But enough of my cinematic pseudo-political rhetoric. Onto the greatness that is About Elly.
In his director's statement, Farhadi states that "rather than asserting a world vision, a film must open a space in which the public can involve themselves in a personal reflection, and evolve from consumer to independent thinkers." If ever a better film was made than Farhadi's at turning the audience from passive watchers to active participant, I can't remember it.
About Elly pulled the rug from under my feet, hardly fifteen minutes into the story, and then placed me on what felt like a quake shivering ground for the remainder of the film. I have still to stop thinking and talking about it, more than two weeks later.
Taraneh Alidoosti in a scene from About Elly, courtesy of Cinema Guild
Far be it for me to ever give away the plot of a film. It's a huge no-no in my book. But I will say that About Elly kicks off with a group of friends traveling from Tehran to the northern seaside, to enjoy a weekend away with their families. Among them is Elly (played by Taraneh Alidousti, who was also in Farhadi's earlier Fireworks Wednesday) young teacher of the daughter of Sepideh (played by Golshifteh Farahani), she has been invited as a possible romantic interest for one friend, the recently divorced Ahmad (played by Shahab Hosseini), who is visiting from Germany. The group's car trip is fun and uneventful, light moments are shared, singing, eating and dancing together. Yet almost immediately upon arrival at the seaside, the ominous, overwhelming sound of the waves crashing on the grey gravel and the jumbled reservations seem to foretell a different story.
At the center of About Elly are not only characters who show a different side of Iran, one which includes well-to-do middle class men and women who interact as we all do, around the world, devoid of the religious restrictions and fanatical rules we are always told about by the media. But also a woman whose lies exist for no reason at all and manage to destroy, either physically and mentally, nearly everyone who crosses her path. She is that person, well known to most of us, the one acquaintance or relative who needs to tell a small fib, even when it's completely unnecessary. And as Churchill brilliantly said, "A small lie needs a bodyguard of bigger lies to protect it." So much energy is wasted in trying to keep up with this character's lies in Farhadi's perfect film that I left the theater exhausted, and wondering: Are liars our biggest liability in this world?
About Elly features an ensemble cast of extraordinary actors -- including personal favorite Peyman Moaadi, the leading man in Farhadi's Oscar-winning A Separation -- which give the film its flawless wings to fly.
When all is said and done, the secret to getting along with each other, whoever that "Other" may be, is understanding one another. And with About Elly, I felt for those delicious two hours inside the Film Forum screening room that I was a part of Iranian society, one that included people I'm familiar with in my own circle of loved ones, and some I'd like better never to have met. But underneath it, all simply and wonderfully human.