Made right before his breakthrough on A SEPARATION/’11, writer/director Asghar Farhadi tests out a similar story construction technique with this story about a group of friends (married couples, kids, singles) sharing a beachfront rental over a 3-day holiday. With the exception of newcomer Elly, an attraction young single brought along for an informally arranged meeting with a divorced member of the core group, they all know each other, and each others’ foibles, only too well. But what starts out as light-hearted fun & games, soon takes a dark turn with a near drowning and a mysterious disappearance, buried in the shifting glare of half-truths. Farhadi’s method of storytelling plays out thru character turns or plot twists; secrets revealed within little lies; with social pleasantries pointedly reversing expectations and/or assumptions. Inside every reveal a concealment, with every fresh light a shadow to keep the truth out of reach. But what worked to revelatory effect in A SEPARATION (and nearly so in THE PAST/’13), feels forced here. Not the forced camaraderie, games & hijinks of uncomfortably close vacation revels, but the forced dramatic weight of a story built out of missed signals and artfully gauged incremental revelations. The film insists on each new move as a step toward the tragic, but the gear-grinding & social embarrassment is more like a sexually charged boulevard farce from Georges Feydeau. It’s just that no one got around to letting the cast & crew in on the joke. They missed seeing the razor’s edge difference that makes tragedy out of development and farce out of vamping.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Few saw thru this, but a quick look at either A SEPARATION or THE PAST (see above) makes everything crystal clear.