October 25, 2015 -- In Iran, a group of young adults and children goes on a holiday trip to the beach, but simmering tensions and conflicts soon arise and a series of mistakes and lies brings everything up to the boiling point of a crisis. This is a 2009 film, but it is now being pushed for this award season. Maybe the video release just made it here.
Sepideh (played by Golshifteh Farahani) invites her daughter's teacher Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti) on a weekend vacation trip to the beach with friends and relatives, including Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini) a recently divorced friend visiting from Germany. Sepideh goes to great lengths to facilitate a romantic match between Elly and Ahmad, even going so far as to tell a matronly innkeeper that Ahmad and Elly are on their honeymoon in order to secure accommodations when it turns out the seaside resort has no vacancies (which Sepideh knew beforehand and did not tell the others). It turns out that is not the only lie she has told.
Elly and Ahmad do like each other, but it is clear that Elly is very uncomfortable staying in the house that Sepideh has secured for them with her little white lie. Elly wants to leave in the next morning, but Sepideh tells her she must stay, and even goes so far as to hide her travel bag from her to keep her there. Later, Elly is asked to keep an eye on three children playing on the beach, while everyone else is occupied elsewhere. Elly helps two of the children fly a kite, then turns, looks at something, then leaves the two children she is watching.
One of the children later runs to where the adults are playing volleyball on the other side of the house and cries that one of the other children has been carried away from shore in the sea. The adults franticly swim swim out into the sea, looking for the lost child. It is only later they discover that Elly is missing too.
What happened to Elly? This is not revealed until the end of the film. The discussion among the adults as to where Elly might have gone reveals much about each of these characters, and the society in which they live. Did Elly simply leave, walk away because she wanted to? Did she swim out into the sea to rescue a drowning child and die in the attempt? Nobody but the children saw where Elly went, and they are all so young and unsure as to what happened they aren't much help.
After the police and rescue workers come and go, the adults start blaming each other for the disappearance. They ask questions about Sepideh, Elly, Ahmad and their motives. What was Elly doing there in the first place if she did not want to be there? Why did she agree to come? Why did she go, if she left of her own free will? It turns out that both Sepideh and Ahmad have been keeping secrets from the others.
Despite Ahmad's involvement in the scheme, the other men in the group, especially Sepideh's husband, Amir (Mani Haghighi) tend to blame the women for what happened. Amir becomes so frustrated with Sepideh that he beats her and must be restrained by the others (the beating explains a lot about Sepideh's actions). He also blames her for making him lose his temper. As the layers of deception are peeled away, the incident becomes increasingly complicated and increasingly mired in sexual politics. It is a horror story from a feminist's perspective.
This is a film that will be viewed quite differently by men and women. It will also be viewed quite differently by people who live in modern secular societies, as opposed to people who live in societies dominated by conservative male-dominated religions such as Islam. This is a story about freedom, and the lack of it. It is a story about very different sex-specific rules for pre-marital behavior. While the Iranian society is different from secular societies, there are enough similarities to make this film relevant to everyone.
This is a well-written, directed and acted film. The camera work by Hossein Jafarian is excellent. The story has a lot of sustained drama and mystery. This film rates a B+.
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