Sunday, October 7, 2007

Review – Leila

October 7, 2007

Leila – Iran, 1996

God did not give her the ability to bear children, but He gave her endless endurance and patience. This is how Leila views her plight, and to get through it, she will need every bit of those two qualities. Leila finds herself in the best and the worst of situations. On the plus side, she is married to a loving husband, and it appears that they couldn’t be happier together. On the negative side, she belongs to a culture in which there is tremendous pressure to bear children.

Three months after her wedding, Leila and her husband Reza (played magnificently by Leila Hatami and Ali Mosaffa) are told that Leila will most likely never give birth naturally. What should be a quiet moment to grieve is shattered by the ringing of the telephone, which brings with it members of Reza’s family who proclaim that the problem cannot possibly be Reza’s, as all of the other men in the family don’t have been able to have plenty of children. After later test reveal that Reza is indeed able to have children, it falls upon Leila to somehow enable him to do so. For two years, she undergoes various kinds of treatment but to no avail. It is then that her mother-in-law approaches with a terrible choice: She can selfishly deny Reza the child he has always yearned for or allow him to take a second wife.

For his part, Reza says all of the right things - he doesn’t care about having a baby, all he wants is Leila, she should ignore his mother-in-law. However, he himself is unable to heed his own advice, never once standing up to his mother on Leila’s behalf. Before he knows it, Leila is recommending that he agree to a meeting that his aunt has arranged with a potential wife. He eventually stops protesting. At first, the meetings are fodder for humor. Reza and Leila have a good time talking about all of his potential wives’ personality quirks and physical appearance. However, beneath this fun is the knowledge that one of these days, the women will not be so objectionable.

In a less intelligent film, Reza’s entire family would be against his remaining with Leila exclusively. However, in Leila the pressure applied to her comes from only two people, Reza’s mother and aunt, and if one of Reza’s sisters is to believed, the vehemence with which they pursue their goal is the result of their drive for revenge, for Reza choose to marry Leila over his aunt’s daughter. Reza’s three sisters like Leila and disapprove of their brother taking a second wife. In addition, Reza’s father cannot understand why other people can live without children and be happy and his son can’t.

Throughout the movie, the audience hears Leila’s thoughts and emotions through a voiceover. They reveal a character that questions her own decisions and is fearful of the kind of future that awaits her if her husband acquiesces to his mother’s wish. Leila herself is a fascinating character. She clearly loves Reza and does not want to lose him. At the same time, she seems to be expecting him to develop an inner strength that would enable him to defend her honor and refuse his mother to her face. It is, therefore, tempting to see every one of Leila’s actions as a test of Reza’s devotion to her, a test which he unfortunately does not have the strength to pass, leading to a final act that is heartrending and tragically realistic. (on DVD)

4 stars

Leila is in Persian with white subtitles. The subtitles are at times hard to read and on occasion contain grammatically incorrect English.

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