Iranian Film Writer and Director Asghar Farhadi has brought us an unusual mystery thriller which has only reached United States theaters late in 2015 because of political upset in its mother country. The film’s actors speak in Iranian dialect with English subtitles for those who have no objection to this format. The film has been compared to Michelangelo Antonioni’s 60’s classic “L’Avventura” because of its similar premise of a search for a missing person.
Taraneh Alidoosti - Iranian Star - Wikimedia
We meet the eight protagonists along with three children on their way to a holiday weekend on the Caspian seashore. They are middle-class adult Iranians who were classmates in law school along with their families. The only outsider in the group is Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), the kindergarten teacher of one of the children. Sepidah (Golshifteh Farahani) invited Elly along with the hope of matching her with one of their old friends, Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini), recently divorced, who is coming to join them from Germany. Neither Elly nor Ahmad are aware of the matchmaking scheme, but nevertheless find each other’s company pleasurable.
A Change in Reservations
Sepidah, who takes it upon herself to direct everyone’s moves, knows already that the place she had reserved will only be available for their first night since the owners are returning and need it for themselves. She was hopeful that similar accommodations can be made for the group of 11 people. Upon arriving, the lady managing the premises informs them of the change in reservation. Sepidah, to obtain the woman’s acquiescence, tells her that Elly and Ahmad are newlyweds and would be like to have suitable lodgings for their honeymoon. Sepidah made up this story because Iranian singles are forbidden to travel together, and she wanted to present the group as law-abiding citizens.
Golshifteh Farahani - Wikimedia
The Poorest of Accommodations
The group were told about a large, albeit decrepit, villa that they were welcome to use. There was no internet, no cellphone access, and no beds, but it was directly on the Caspian sea with a beautiful view. They decided to take it and occupied themselves by playing charades and volleyball, after cleaning up the premises. They had to eat their meals on a blanket on the floor, but seemed to enjoy the unforeseen circumstances.
Elly Wants to Leave
Elly informed Sepidah that she wanted to go home because her mother was recovering from heart surgery and she wanted to be with her. Sepidah hid her luggage so that Elly could not go. The women asked Elly to watch the children on the beach so that they would not go too close to the water. In a fascinating scene, Elly kept a kite aloft while running on the beach. The symbolism of Elly tethered to the kite string seemed to project a meaning which could be interpreted several ways.
Elly and Arash are Missing
A short while later, one of the little girls tried to interrupt her father’s conversation to tell him that her brother Arash was out in the water. When the men realized what was happening, they ran out to the sea to try to find Arash. After a long while, he was spotted and brought in to the beach where they attempted to revive him. He finally woke up, to their relief. Only then did they realize that Elly was nowhere in sight. They again swam into the sea to search for her to no avail. They called the police who said that, if she had drowned, her body would probably wash up the next morning. Each one had to admit to the police that they did not even know Elly’s last name. They were all confused; they wondered if Elly had left for Tehran, which she wanted to do, or whether she drowned, or even had committed suicide. They were uneasy and started arguing with each other about whose fault it was. Each one was filled with fear and guilt. An episode showed one of the husbands hitting his wife and knocking her down, which was undoubtedly not a positive view of Iranian life.
Iranian Director Asghar Farhadi - Wikimedia
Elly Has a Fiance
Elly’s cellphone was still at the villa which led the group to believe that Elly did not leave for Tehran. One of the men called her mother. A man’s voice answered; he said he was Elly’s brother. Sepidah was aware that Elly was an only child. She suspected that it was Elly’s fiancé who had answered. Everyone was scandalized that Elly had come on the trip and paired up with Ahmad even though she had a fiancé. Such an act was looked down upon in their culture. Sepidah confessed that Elly had told her that she was trying to break up with her fiancé for the past six months without success.
The men decided that Elly’s fiancé, Alireza, should come to their villa to be told the truth. Sepidah chose not to tell Alireza that Elly was planning to break their engagement. Meanwhile, Elly’s body had washed up on the shore, and the police were looking for someone who would identify her body. When Alireza arrived, he was taken to the morgue where he witnessed that the body was indeed Elly’s.
A Fight Ensues
Back at the villa, a fight ensued between Alireza and Ahmad when Alireza sensed that Ahmad and Elly had been together during the weekend. He left the villa after insisting that the group should take the responsibility of telling Elly’s mother what had happened that weekend. He knew that Elly’s mother was weak from her recent heart surgery and did not want to be the one to tell her that her daughter had drowned.
Map of Caspian Sea - Wikimedia
Such Problems are Universal
It was apparent to me that a similar circumstance could happen in our country in the present day. The middle-class Iranian couples were no different than the married couples we meet here in the United States every day. The problems they encountered are universal; the participants are equally liable to react negatively when an unexpected tragedy occurs.
I was impressed with the acting ability of the central characters; the children especially did a superb job in their roles. The Iranian motion picture industry has come to prominence in recent years and will surely compete with the best to bring us their kind of entertainment in the future.