Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
“About Elly” uses the disappearing-woman device from “L’Avventura” but to a much different end. Where Antonioni uses it to comment on the modern condition, taking a quintessentially macro POV, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi uses it to examine the particulars of human interaction. The high-status social group on excursion in the country is reminiscent of the group in Satyajit Ray’s “Days and Nights in the Forest.” Farhadi is a more malicious artist than Ray (like most filmmakers who truck in suspense, he’s a bit of a sadist), but he has a similar observational delicacy. Character insights are surprising yet in hindsight seem inevitable. When the plot takes a turn towards the sinister, the picture’s tenor changes in a way that’s perceptible but not measurable. Suddenly, it’s as though the wind has shifted (wind is a constant presence in the movie). Separating the two phases of the story is a wonderful (and very Ray-like) sequence of the enigmatic Elly cavorting on the beach. It has a self-contained beauty. Farhadi is beloved by progressives, who take the movie as an examination of the mores of an honor culture, but I think it’s hard to deny that his concept of Woman is at least somewhat traditional. The movie’s disappearing women, Elly and the German ex-wife of Elly’s suitor Ahmad, are presented as troublesome figures whose independence has brought discord to this group of friends. And the young Sepideh (who, interestingly, is featured prominently on the movie’s poster) has all the mischievousness of Pandora or Eve. It’s to Farhadi’s credit that he never criticizes or condemns these women; rather, he presents their behavior as part of the panoply of human existence. Still, it’s hard to squeeze the picture into the box of progressive dogma, and I do wonder if Farhadi won’t eventually make a movie that pisses off the college professors who claim to love his work. The other Farhadi I’ve seen, “A Separation,” also deals with a broken marriage.