Director: Asghar Farhadi
Summary: The mysterious disappearance of a kindergarten teacher during a picnic in the north of Iran is followed by a series of misadventures for her fellow travelers.
The magical appeal of the film “About Elly” directed by Asghar Farhadi lies in the potential for discovery and witnessing that it offers to its audience. A film that challenges such bold concepts as “belief,” “doubt,” and “judgment,” more than any other cinematic work, it succeeds in raising the audience to a position of judgment, eventually though, the audience is sent out of the dark cinema hall with a plethora of questions and doubts.
They are passing such judgments that resemble a game of pantomime. People act based on their personal judgments, sometimes guessing the intent of the other correctly, sometimes not, while in an air of exuberance all the while, assuming they have realized the whole truth.
Numerous harbors have been filmed in the movie, intentionally designed to engage the audience’s deep feelings. This design has been such that the audience can easily put themselves in “Elly’s” shoes and drown in the film’s magical world, identifying with certain acts or characters according to each person’s particularities.
Facing such cinematic works, one feels like their personal experiences have been given a new life again on the screen. “About Elly” is the visual rendering of everything that we have felt repeatedly but were ever powerless to express. For this reason, we find ourselves so readily and easily able to go beyond the text each moment and compare our learnings and feelings with what we see on the screen.
I feel like the film has already been talked about and discussed from various technical and professional angles such as acting, script, and camerawork; what has been left unsaid is the deep and valuable concepts that the film’s story so simply and sincerely conveys to the audience.
One of the key scenes in the film is where the companions discuss “Elly’s” (Taraneh Alidoosti) vague identity. no one knows the real name of the girl. “Elham,” “Elmira,” “Elnaz,” Elahe,” or she’s the manager of a kindergarten, that’s all that they know about her. The more time passes, the greater this vagueness becomes. Now, the characters’ primary issue is to find an answer for the film’s curious title, “About Elly.” They want to know which “Elly” they are talking about.
Another magical feature of the film is that it pictures a vague and double identity of “Elly” for us. More fascinating is the fact that any one of these two vague characters can lead a separate story of her own in the film.
“The first Elly” is an innocent and naive drowned in the sea while attempting to save a child. “The second Elly” is a desperate girl that willingly decides to end her life by suicide.
Our judgment of the rest of the characters in the group depends on, which one of these identities we take to be the real “Elly.” The film allows the audience to get involved in the issue and shape their own judgment, just like the engaged family in the film.
What is interesting is that “Elly,” with her two sets of different behavior, can connect to two separate aspects of the sea, in which she is hiding her true self. A calm, composed, and selfless “Elly” is a symbol of a serene and soothing sea, while a chaotic and angry “Elly” pictures a different face of the sea, one that is stormy and horrifying.
Now we compare this part of the film with the sociological views of the German thinker “Ferdinand Tönnies” to further illuminate the depths behind “Elly’s” characterization. He divided human societies into two categories: “spiritual societies” and “superficial societies,” his detail and description of the second category are strikingly similar to the painted world of the film. “the most determinant element in superficial societies is the density of humans. Human reproduction and procreation and life in limited spaces, as a historical phenomenon of our century, has numerous consequences, including the impossibility for mutual understanding, the prevalence of superficial, arbitrary relationships, and loneliness.
In the film “About Elly,” we can see the density of humans in the vila’s limited space. Lack of understanding and failure to acknowledge the depth of the characters’ feelings is the essential fact in the film that is ignored and, as a result, ends in disaster. (The families` members, except Sepideh, are unaware of the fact that Elly has a fiancé)
we can see the loneliness and detachment of Elly from the mass of the group in several scenes: the kite running scene, her lifeless body, left all alone in the mortuary, the scene where she’s getting salt, and the way she uses the phone.
“Tonnies” further goes on to explain his view: “in a superficial society’s framework, individuals follow logic, practicality and even in a specific meaning of the word, desirability.
To understand this part better, we can pay attention to the white lies that people tell each other daily, which, according to “Tonnies,” reflects the practical characteristic of superficial societies.
The old landlady is told that “Elly” and “Ahmad” (Shahab Hosseini) are there on their honeymoon, Nazi tells Elly’s fiancé fiance` that Elly talks a great deal about him and her mother and that she misses them, Sepideh knows that Elly has a fiancé but keeps the secret from the rest of the group,
but what is in thorough connection to the central motif and meaning of the film is the following part of Tonnies’s theory: “in such a society, man in the masses is but a walking ghost, his identity unknown, and his name and reputation uncertain. Overall, one becomes a mysterious being against another man. It is for this reason that in metropolises, people often lack a certain dignified status. For one must prove his particular status against others in each moment.” ( The Sociology of Communication, Dr. Bagher Sarokhani, 57).
As mentioned earlier, the appeal of “About Elly” lies in this very reality. “the fact that all the concepts that a theoretician has achieved through a great deal of meticulous research are woven together, brought alive, and displayed on a screen for the audience, it is not a common and trivial thing.
Who can so vividly and clearly represent an unknown and unidentified individual but the film’s “Elly.” And what story can better reflect the truth about the “lost individuality” of the modern man than “About Elly.”
The last word here would be what is mentioned in “Dariush Mehrjui’s” most recent novel, uttered by the narrator of his story:
“where is my individuality?
Where is it? How can one be an individual? Especially in a society where one has to continuously struggle with superficiality, ceremonial and affected complements, where nothing is left of life but its hollow and meaningless husk. What meaning can individuality have in such a society? (For a Loud and Damned Film, Dariush Mehrjui, 6)
I wish time and space would allow us to write a separate piece on each and every single scene and character of the film, For expressing all that holy visual joy in a few paragraphs is all but possible. Even though, Elly’s kite running scene cannot be so easily overlooked. Where we see a feeling of dread and innocence in her face, and she, with a heavy head and a patient heart, wanders the seashore running back and forth.
It is in this moment where the border between the sky and the earth vanishes, and the two merge into one infinite blue nothingness, where the kite, flying high above, heralds Elly’s ascent and death. The sea’s dreadful scream overpowers serene peace emanating from the central character.
And “Elly,” who’s hiding something more unknown than any secret in her being, is lost in the chaos of the sea.
My next pick is the ending scene. Desperate souls pushing a car stuck in the mud so that they can leave behind the cursed seashore. Characters that represent the middle-class people are once more brought back together after they have each fallen victim to their ego, but now it’s too late. They, too, know that they’ve hit a dead-end, with no way to turn back.
We can infer something similar in “The Lost” series, a similarity owed to the main storyline of the two cinematic works. Interestingly enough, both works deal with the chaotic life story of wandering people in an abandoned place close to the sea. With this difference that in the first case ( The Lost), it is the plane’s crash that disrupts the peace of the characters but in “About Elly,” it is the “Moral fall” in the story that leads to a bitter end for the characters involved.
Another key scene in the film is where Alireza (Elly’s finance`) utters the key sentence in the entire screenplay. While at the climax of his helplessness, he confesses that his anguish is more because of the lie he’s been told than Elly’s death. What has ruined him is the big little lies that he’s been told, lies that are themselves born of even more lies. The same lies that seem to us but ordinary and common, but each on their own can bring down a disaster upon their creator.
If we go on explaining and describing exciting scenes, this article won’t be ending any time soon. I especially like the scene where Amir (Mani Haghighi) is fed up and, in the heat of the moment, beats her wife (Golshifteh Farahani), it is a perfect shot. Especially moments after the beating, where they are dumbstruck at what they have just witnessed.
I’ve seen the film twice, once during the festival and once during the premier. But there is still traces of the film’s dialogues, voices, scenes, characters, and most importantly, the questions left in my mind. I keep thinking, why “Elly” ‘s presence in the second half of the film was so much more robust and expressive. (Just like in “Death of Yazdgerd” by Bahram Beyzai, where Yazdgerd’s corpse lying on the ground seems to affect and manipulate the story’s events throughout the film) Whether Sepideh would have been in the same situation or not if she hadn’t been such a responsible person.
But I think the most important question is: Whether all these crisis-stricken people can manage to get their car out of the mud and start moving again or not?
What happened to Elly in About Elly? How did she die?
Elly, who is left on her own to watch the kids, runs up and down the beach flying a kite to amuse them. This is the last genuine happy moment in the movie. Farhadi’s camera moves lyrically in sweeping motions, mirroring their joy as it first follows her and then the kite. It’s the final time we get to see her.
About Elly ending explained:
Elly, who is left on her own to watch the kids, runs up and down the beach flying a kite to amuse them. This is the last genuine happy moment in the movie. Farhadi’s camera moves lyrically in sweeping motions, mirroring their joy as it first follows her and then the kite. It’s the final time we get to see her alive.
Meanwhile, Elly is dead. Alireza weeps at the end of the movie not only because his beloved Elly has passed away, but also because it appears that she despised him so much that she quickly agreed to the trip.