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Elo (2020) Review: A Heartbreaking Allegory

Elo (2020) Review: A Heartbreaking Allegory

Elo short film

Elo, an eerie, incisive silent short film (28 minutes) from Karachi about suicide ably juxtaposes transcendent beauty and personal tragedy. It begins with the partially-esoteric setup story of a boy played exceedingly well by Saad, a 20-something with strains of premature grey in hair, on his way to his office in a non-existent world before he made his final leap, a dramatic backward dive.

Director Syed Wajahat Ali and writer Syed Saad Farrukh (who also plays the protagonist) give us a protagonist innocently endearing and oblivious to the ways of the world. Raring to take on, he’s a visage of sanguine hope and idealistic notions. But Elo isn’t Saad’s story alone. He symbolises youngsters, who like him, with a chimerical worldview step into professional lives. The analogy sticks. The turnaround in his mental state, the fatal leap from aspiration to depression that almost goes unnoticed by passers-by, is skilfully captured.

Elo juxtaposes pleasant scenes of Karachi’s streets and its environs, with the harrowing personal story of a boy who steps out as one person and transforms into someone completely unlike him, on the way. Because this testimony of a character’s journey is remarkably free of any names, religion, country or even class, this one is among the most moving and brutally honest films about suicide from Pakistan.

Throughout the film, envelopes of appointment and qualifications in the protagonist’s hand shimmer like a pathway to heaven. Framed from multiple perspectives, at all times and in all kinds of conditions, these envelopes loom almost as unearthly monuments that seem to float in their own space, especially when ringed with fog through which the spires of the rigid city life peek.

These envelopes, however, are also symbolic of departure for people determined to end their lives. And as the camera fixes its gaze on the protagonist when he isn’t allowed to enter the aspired building and his brilliantly enacted expressions follow, it captures him and indirectly many such unknown people leaping to their deaths.

Wajahat and his crew seem to have spent a lot of time observing these emotions carefully and deeply, eventually filming them with panache. Cinematographers Salik A Chagani and Basharat Hussain’s immersive visuals help you feel part of the story and the character’s journey. Simplicity works. The lead protagonist’s performance is praise-worthy. You feel for him from the first frame to the last. Overall, Elo is an impressive piece of work. An excellent soundtrack measures up to the film’s imagery.

There is little hand-wringing and no in-your-face moments. As the story starts wrapping up, one worries if the ending wouldn’t be what it seems to be. But the boy’s little-to-none self-confidence by the end suggests it would have happened sooner or later. A cold murder of one’s self by one’s ownself.

For all its discussion of mental illness, Elo is metaphysical rather than clinically oriented. The movie ridicules what once Wallace Stevens said, “death is the mother of beauty.” It always isn’t. The fact that so many people choose an earthly paradise to end their lives (2 out of every 8) reinforces the film’s intimation that people’s hopes of ending psychic suffering by moving to a more pleasant place may be completely futile. If suicidal impulses are your demons, you need empathy around you to overcome them.

The film fills you with despair and fatalism. Our scriptures say the body is a temple. The character in the film however saw it as a prison. In his mind, he knew he was loved, that he had everything and could do anything. Yet, he felt trapped but ironically the only way he could be free was if someone told him it wasn’t. Elo sympathises with the young and questions those in power. Society has to make amends.

See Also
Oppenheimer review

Elo is rated PG-13 (requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). You can watch the film on Vimeo.


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