About Elli (Dir.: Asghar Farhadi)
by Iraj Karimi
Every year, a great number of the Iranian films are screened at Fajr International Film Festival. The following four films discussed here have been chosen by writers and critics of Film International after the end of the 27th Fajr International Film Festival (Jan. 31-Feb. 10, 2009).
About Elli is an unprecedented film in the Iranian cinema. Some maintain that there are similarities between the works of Mehrjui and Farhadi, but I believe that Mehrjui has never produced such well-structured and breathtaking mise en scenes which would be both proportionate and so natural that as if they have been accidental. This impressionist film shows us the life and its fragility. Perhaps that is why death or even its possibility is so scary. Perhaps it is this very sense of life in a dramatic framework which reminds me of Claude Sautet, especially his Cesare and Rosalie, though it depicts the world of the middle-aged people. About Elli has been made by a more bitter and tragic Claude Sautet. It is story of a tragic love symbolized through exchanging shreds of glass on the two sides of the broken glass of a window by new lovers. That window represents limitations and the violence which governs a love affair.
Performances are brilliant and Farhadi has proven his mastery by managing waves, sea, walls, widows and people so deftly. His work is somehow similar to choreography. Mani Haqiqi (who has his first acting experience) is also surprising: a young man who both dances well and beats his wife well. The two sequences are related just in the same way that many commonplace and even jovial movements and allusions give a terrible turn to his apparently simple and fluid flow of everyday life. I don’t remember to have seen another film in which everyday life has been depicted in such a terrible manner. I want to point to a special aspect of the film. The dance sequence of young men starts with Mani Haqiqi dancing which is a comic form of the Iranian male dance characterized by womanly swings and body movements. Elia Kazan has noted in his autobiography “A Life” that when he was in Turkey to make America, America (1963), he had hated such male dancing. Apart from his hate of taboos (sexual prohibitions), which are the main origin of this dance, perhaps he has abhorred it because through that dance, men try to extol their manly values and prove that they don’t need women at the time of merrymaking. It seems that the goal of young men in the said sequence from exaggerating that manly dance is to distance from its masculine connotations. But in addition to the fact that they are practically dancing in place of their women, these young lawyers turn out to be quite apt to patriarchal behavior as a result of Elli’s drowning.
The film focuses on an important aspect of historical status of the middle class in Iran. The men and women in this film are young lawyers who try to substitute law for ethics or emotions and are obsessed about voting on everything, even strange voting on whether Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini) would like to marry Elli or not. Obviously, such a substitution would not be possible in a lot of cases, but in a rational society, it can be done in many instances and this is a major concern for all transitional societies, including Iran. The main responsibility lies on the shoulders of the middle class. However, Elli disappears quite suddenly and faces those young lawyers with a question. Due to its suddenness and lack of information on Elli, death appears to them like an absolute vacuum. What they shall do with it? They have bid farewell to traditional world where death was a major support for ethics. Now, what law would help these young lawyers to face this vacuum? Can they resort to votes in this case too? But what their votes would be? They give up the law and first try, by admitting to their errors, to give a new meaning to the newly emerged vacuum. Then they blame Elli, not themselves, for what has happened. But since they cannot believe it, it seems that by condemning Elli for the situation, they would be relieved from that terrible vacuum. Therefore, they try to replace a worldly resurrection for one in the Afterlife. It is not only Elli’s fiancé who undermines their presumptions by showing his love for Elli (so Elli could be loved and this undermines their judgment), but (and more importantly) it is also heartfelt approach taken by Sepideh who insists on protecting “integrity” of Elli. This is not a merely moral issue, but is also of a legal nature and the metaphysical concept that Sepideh adds to it (the right of a human being even when she is dead) replaces the traditional ethics which were based on the supernatural. If other family members believed Sepideh and stood by her, then the vacuum would be gone and they could cry for Elli after having defended her honor. Their confusion represents confusion of the whole Iranian middle class that is in transition from one value-based system to a new one based on new values.
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