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 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 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.
What lulled me into a mistaken sense of boredom upon my first viewing was the unassuming start of the film. The simplicity of the plot - a group of young Tehrani couples going on a seaside weekend trip, with one of the wives trying to act as a matchmaker between a female colleague and an expat on vacation from Germany - is presented in such low-key fashion that if you don't know what's coming (and I didn't) it's hard to focus on the subtle hints of possible conflict. Also, while I've been to Iran and consider myself vaguely familiar with the complexities of life there, of course as a mere visitor you can catch but a fraction of what things mean, and since this is very much a jump into an unknown society, you really have to blank your mind to catch the drift of what the characters say.
Ironically, that's a stark contradiction to the usual Iranian festival fair: Kiarostami works a lot with metaphor (which he often endlessly repeats to drive the message home), Panahi with situation developments (which he exploits to the utmost degree to drive the message home), and therefore their works do not require much background info, though it sure helps. Farhadi's film asks for a bit more audience participation, as much of the conflict in the second half of the film stems from Iranian social reality, I would think. That is what, on my second viewing, convinces me of the timeless quality of this film: never before have I seen a director pull so much substance out of so little plot and setting.
Just because 'All about Elly' appears to be simple at first, it is actually really deep; once I suspected that every frame in this film means something and is not just there, I entered an alternate visual language, which then communicated the urgency of what Elly's disappearance meant to me. I felt that this film thereby manages to tell me emotionally what I could rationally never fully comprehend: what it means to actually live in a country like that. No other film from Iran has ever done that for me, and I've rarely seen a film from another culture that managed to do so. So I would assume that Farhadi has taken directing to another level here.
What's more: this isn't just a very artistic way to convey a message, it's also very entertaining. For once I was drawn into the characters, their sense of alarm and suspense kept me on the edge until the very end. There's a decent dose of Hitchcock in 'All about Elly' as unreal as that may sound. That's the real charm of this film: although it's demanding in terms of familiarity with the setting, it's international in its depiction of emotions anyone from anywhere can relate to.
In conclusion: Definitely not to be missed if you are just as much as remotely interested in Iran, or have a sweet tooth for excellent direction (though the French term 'mise-en-scène' hits the mark in this case). This is the kind of movie that should become part the curriculum of film students around the globe.
- Nov 28, 2010