Monday, October 5, 2015

About Elly: That Final Shot

We've got those final shots we love. They're the ones that we look at and can't imagine a more perfect image to conclude those that have preceded it. Often times we find them simply either aesthetically pleasing to look at or thematically relevant to the film as a whole or simply viscerally ideal in terms of how we should feel based on what we've felt about the rest of the film. Rarely though do we get a closing image that accomplishes all three of these things. Asghar Fahradi's 2009 film About Elly, which only found its way into US theaters this year, is one of those rarities. Here's the image, which depicts a handful of the movie's characters attempting to push their car out of the wet sand at the end of a vacation that started out merrily and ended in a tragedy. 

In short, a group of friends and their children go to the beach for a vacation. Among them is Ahmad, a recently divorced man from Germany, and a young teacher named Elly, who has been invited in order to meet and possibly connect with Ahmad. The film's first third is a jovial affair, full of laughter, games, and good food. The second act takes on a massive tonal shift as Elly, who is by nature insecure and clearly ill at ease with the matchmaking scheme for her and Ahmad, disappears. Maybe she drowned trying to save one of the kids who had gone too far into the water, or maybe she ran away to keep the situation with Ahamd from going any further. Either way, tempers begin to flare, blame is applied to various members of the group, and what had the making of a terrific weekend is suddenly rendered something of a nightmare. The final act escalates the tension when we learn that Sepideh, who had planned the entire trip and was responsible for inviting Elly, has been keeping secrets about Elly that complicate the situation and creates a crisis of whether to reveal the truth or manipulate it. Fahradi loves secrets and even more loves to reveal them slowly and then examine how such revelations affect the psyches of his characters. While such interests requires plenty of contrivances, Fahradi's films never feel false in part because he's interested more in ethics than melodrama, and also because he manages to get a sense of realism from his performers so intense that we often don't feel like we're seeing a movie. All of these things apply to About Elly, which makes it an overwhelming experience and also allows for that final shot to be more than just beautiful.

Despite the tragic outcome of the vacation, these are all working people with families, and there will be little time to reflect on the drama of the weekend once they return to their normal lives. They must get back to the nitty-gritty necessities of every day life, the basic problems, the simple solutions. Rather than ending with all of the characters in shock or subdued silence, we see them gather to solve one of those relatively simple problems, the problems that make up most of our daily lives. Something terrible happened and it cannot be mended, so life goes on. 

On that visceral level there is a sense of sadness to the image as well. We leave feeling somewhat forlorn and empty. We wish things could have turned out better, and we wish for some sort of resolution that at least provides a sense of peace and closure, yet Fahradi cannot give us one when it is not available to give. At the beginning of the film he embraced his characters' intimacy, often packing them all in a single frame and letting the actors exude camaraderie. In the final shot they're still packed in the same frame, but we see them at a distance, feeling their sudden emotional desolation. Technically this is a 2009 film, but it's easily one of the best things I've seen in 2015. 

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