BERLIN (Reuters) - An Iranian drama exploring the lengths to which people go to uphold the country's social conventions has won warm reviews at the Berlin film festival, putting it in the early running for prizes.
"About Elly" (Darbareye Elly), starring Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani as Sepideh, centers around a group of middle-class Iranians who drive to the shores of the Caspian Sea for a short break from Tehran.
Mischievous matchmaker Sepideh invites nursery school teacher Elly, hoping that she gets together with divorced friend Ahmad who is back in his native Iran from Germany.
Concerned that Elly's presence in the villa may raise eyebrows, Sepideh tells the old woman letting the property that the couple are newlyweds. It is the start of a long trail of deception that eventually turns a happy holiday into tragedy.
Screen International critic Lee Marshall called About Elly "one of the most remarkable Iranian films to surface in the last few years," giving it four out of four stars.
The Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young wrote: "'About Elly' confirms director Asghar Farhadi as a major talent in Iranian cinema whose ability to chronicle the middle-class malaise of his society is practically unrivalled."
Farahani was singled out for her performance, although reports said her involvement could mean the movie did not get shown in Iran due to controversy caused when she appeared in "Body of Lies," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, last year.
Farhadi said he wanted to make a film that was universal.
"What was important to me was that there should be something universal, so everyone around the world could enjoy the film and not just someone who knows about Iran," he told reporters after the movie was screened Saturday.
"To my mind, the kind of difficulties we encounter in Iran are those we see in other countries as well."
Another popular film among the early entries in competition at the Berlin festival, which winds up with an awards ceremony on February 14, is "Gigante" from Uruguay.
The movie tells the touching tale of Jara, a burly, shy security guard at a Montevideo supermarket who becomes infatuated with cleaner Julia, whom he watches on monitors linked to security cameras and then follows obsessively.
The normally gentle giant is not afraid to use force when necessary, and the viewer is left guessing about his true intentions when he runs amok in the supermarket after learning Julia has been sacked.
Actor Horacio Camandule said playing the heavy metal-loving Jara had helped him overcome his own shyness.
"To come here (Berlin) is really something that would make me very nervous, but now I feel a little bit less so," he told reporters.