Review by Conall Cash (catabloguing.wordpress.com)
A group of friends go on a holiday by the sea, and after a while one member of the group, a young woman, disappears; the rest of the film chronicles the friends’ attempts to deal with this disappearance. If this description of the plot of Asghar Faradi’s About Elly might give the impression that Faradi is gunning for the position of ‘the Iranian Antonioni’ (as Abbas Kiarostami might be called the Iranian Rossellini, Jafar Panahi the Iranian De Sica, etc.), that turns out to not really be the case. Despite lifting its storyline straight from the art cinema classic L’Avventura, About Elly is very much a mainstream film with mainstream concerns; it has nothing in particular to do with the great Iranian cinema of Kiarostami, Mohsen Makmalbaf and others. Seen in this light, though, the film eventually reveals itself to be very good for what it is. Though I can’t say I exactly understand why both of its sessions at MIFF have been sold out days in advance – nor why, given this immense popularity of an Iranian film, the festival organizers couldn’t even bring themselves to program Kiarostami’s fascinating new work, Shirin (which screened at the Sydney Film Festival) – About Elly is certainly a sensitively acted, thought-provoking film.
Unlike Antonioni, Faradi uses the situation of the missing, probably drowned woman to make sharp observations about his society, particularly its treatment of women and marital relationships. One could sense that this was probably the point of interest for much of the audience, the reason for the film’s apparent buzz – the pointed laughter with which the crowd greeted every indication of sexism or religiosity from a male character became itself rather funnier and more sociologically revealing than the film we were watching. But About Elly, fortunately, is not as straightforward a depiction of ‘the state of things’ in Iran as some might want it to be. It leaves you with as many questions as answers, a sense that you have got to know a group of people and the social world in which they live, and a wish to live in that world a little longer – all things that good mainstream films should do.