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Michael Ferguson

About Elly — Movie Review

About Elly

Directed by Asghar Farhadi

This is a contrived, manipulative, ridiculous piece of melodramatic fluff that provides a very uncomplimentary depiction of Iranian culture.  If you think American culture is bad — and I do — this is much worse.  No wonder a simple weekend outing turns into a grotesque nightmare.  These people are intolerable.  They can’t do anything right.  Everything they do is stupid from beginning to end.  Part of the problem is that the filmmaker seems to be improvising the story line as he goes along.  He’s got a boring subject with boring people and he keeps looking for ways to jazz it up and keep the audience from falling asleep or getting up and leaving.  Nothing is convincing, though, and the outcome does not make sense and is so unconvincing that I would argue that Elly is not really dead and the idiot that looked at her body in the morgue misidentified her.

The film is Iranian.  It is in Persian with subtitles.  One of the features of Iranian culture that I discerned from this film is that it is a group culture, where one’s participation in the group is more important than one’s individuality.  It is a busybody culture where the group knows everyone’s personal business and is very much involved in regulating and directing the personal life of each member.  I wouldn’t be able to stand it, and in fact, it is exactly that feature of this group culture that gives rise to all the conflicts that make up the substance of the film, if you want to call it that.

Another difficulty, from a western observer’s point of view, is that this group culture makes it difficult to get to know the members of the group as individuals.  You come away from this film not really knowing who the characters are, with one exception that I will mention later.  Everything is done in a group and even conversations are group conversations.  The conversation goes on with all members of the group participating at once.  So when you read the subtitles, it is hard to connect the subtitles to the particular individuals making the utterances, because they are coming so fast and almost at once.  As the film goes on, individual personalities begin to emerge, but “character” in the usual sense that we understand in a western film is decidedly downplayed.

The subtitles must have been done by someone who is not a native speaker of English.  What gives this away is a discussion they had about someone “ululating” during some horseplay the night before.  How many Americans know what “ululating” is?  It suggests that somebody found the word in the dictionary, but didn’t really understand how (rarely) it is used.

The film is marred by a number of arbitrary turns whose only purpose seems to be to create melodrama, like leaving young children unattended on a hazardous beach when there are about eight adults present who could watch them.  This is what I mean about these people being dumb.  They’re careless, shortsighted and irresponsible — not to mention manipulative and deceitful.  They have all kinds of hang-ups about women and personal relationships.  They get into these huge squabbles over small interpersonal trifles.  It’s very tiresome.  They’re uncivilized.  If you want to watch a bunch of morons argue and bicker and fight amongst themselves about a bunch of nothing, then this is the movie for you.

There is one beautiful woman who has potential as an actress in this film.  Golshifteh Farahani who played Sepideh in the film is a gorgeous woman with beautiful captivating eyes.  It is unfortunate that she had to play this badly written role in this lousy movie, but she has the magnetism and the physical presence as well as the skill to be a heavyweight in a really good film.  But she is not enough to make this film worth sitting through.  I hope she will get a better chance in something else.