The opening in Asghar Farhadi’s “About Elly”, is reminiscent of Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies (2010): a playful group of friends turns out to be childish and overbearing, and their holiday arrangements entirely banal. The Camera dizzily following each person, as the vacationers arrive at the ramshackle beach house, mending broken windows and doors while rekindling old friendships and rivalries. And then, practically on their doorstep, is the choppy sea, an irresistible draw to the children and source of stress to their parents.
When disaster strikes, games and laughter are replaced by anger and tears. But the change in tone also permeates to the smallest details: Sepideh’s headscarf switches from vibrant red to dull green. The characters, who had been irritating in their playful mode, are now sympathetic as they are suddenly subdued, moving through the successive stages of panic, concern, analysis, accusation and evasiveness.
The plot smoothly raises some unusual moral questions. It touches on masculine honor, on the way a thoughtless laugh can wound someone’s feelings, on the extent to which we try to take charge of others’ fates. I can’t recall another film that so deeply examines the risks of telling lies to spare someone grief. But no more talk: The less you know in advance, the better.