Leila (1997)

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Cultural oppression is a battering ram that destroys everything in its path. There are those who help wield it and those who throw their hands up in protest but do nothing. So it is with the lives of Leila (Leila Hatami) and Reza (Ali Mosaffa). Married because of family expectation but finding love and companionship, their problems begin when Leila finds she can’t have children.

Accepting Reza’s insistence that he doesn’t mind and will live life happily childless, their prospects don’t seem too bad. That is until Reza’s mother, Madar Jan (Jamileh Sheikhi), finds out. She is relentless and has the weight of Iranian social tradition and expectation behind her. It doesn’t take much for Leila to crack.

It’s frustrating to watch the passivity of each character as this tale unravels. Everyone seems to think they are helpless, that it is someone else’s responsibility. Reza seems unable to stand up to his mother or refrain from laying blame for this at Leila‘s feet. Leila allows herself to be manipulated and then resents Reza for not stopping her.

There are some gorgeous cinematic moments of the domestic details of life; tea tossed down the sink, a boy dancing to inaudible music, the making of a bed. After a while, though, the spelled out emotional angst became repetitive and dragged down the film’s pace. I wanted Madar Jan to shut up and Reza and Leila to act like adults.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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