(directed by Asghar Farhadi, 2014)
****+ (out of 5)
> Deft Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has delivered an emotional powerhouse of a film, an intense drama of deep human impact, that compares favorably with British humanist filmmaker Mike Leigh at his best.
. ABOUT ELLY is the story of a group of college friends on holiday at the seashore. It’s a vacation, but the instigator of the whole outing has an ulterior motive, playing matchmaker between her child’s unmarried teacher Elly, and a divorced friend visiting from abroad. Nothing really untoward about that, except that the hostess knows a secret the other guests don’t: Elly is already engaged. She has been trying to find a way to disengage with her suitor, but he is controlling and manipulating and has no intension of letting her go. The betrothal has already been announced and the families involved. Her family’s honor is at stake. Things go seriously awry when Elly suddenly goes missing, drawing them all into a web of deceit and moral conundrum.
. It took a while for this to make sense to me, simply because I am so thoroughly American and Iran has a such a very different set of norms and cultural expectations. I kept wondering why, when the shit hits the fan, the principals didn’t simply tell the truth- until it occurred to me that Iranian women have very few of what we in the U.S. would call natural human rights. Here, a woman can just end an engagement if she wants out. But in the Islamic world, women are not so empowered, and are subject to the will of the men in their lives: their father’s will, their brother’s choice, their partner’s desires. In a country like Iran, a woman’s honor is everything. Once it is tarnished, her life may never be the same. Personally, I think the Persian culture is full of amazing things, and has been for centuries. Treating women like infants who cannot think for themselves is not among of them.
. When placed in its proper cultural context ABOUT ELLY all makes sense, adding up to some serious human tragedy and some very fine filmmaking!
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