“Leila and her brothers”, by Saeed Roustaee: family business

After the shock wave of Law of Tehranreturns the Iranian director with a third feature film, perhaps less abundant in form but just as impressive in mastery. Leila and her brothers paints the portrait of an Iranian family burdened with debt, on the one hand shaken by the weight of tradition and on the other by the economic crisis. All carried by a cast of actors and actresses building with precision.

An unstoppable, almost silent opening sequence, an alternate cut that sets up the stakes in a film that, in a way, begins with its ending – at least with the one that announces the heart of the story, namely the grief of the godfather and therefore the search for his successor –; a film that also begins with the sound of rebellion, of the crisis that is contained, of the individual who escapes cowardly from the chaos, from the crowd, in a scene of love at the exit of a factory that is on strike , and as with anamorphosis, the opening scene and the police raid at the beginning of The law Tehran, through this same confrontation between the body of the state and the indistinct mass.

Finally, the last pillar in this sequence of three contributions, the face of a worried woman who carries her family’s future on her shoulders, Leila, played by Taraneh Allidoosti, who could well have won the interpretation award at Cannes if it had not been finally awarded her colleague Zar Amir Ebrahimi for her role in Nights of Mashhad by Ali Abbassi. This unstoppable sequence finally gives way to a river film of almost three hours, in which the word inversely overflows to all sides, and the staging fades a little behind this influx of words, looks and gestures.

©Amirhossein Shojaei

Déjà vu

What immediately strikes you Leila and her brothers, like in Law of Tehran – one of the highest-grossing films in Iranian film history, which cleverly managed to escape censorship in its country of origin – it is the earth-shaking incarnation of major characters, none of whom are ever set back or silenced by Saeed Roustaee’s stripped down direction. The stunning Navid Mohammadzadeh, who plays Alireza, the eldest of the siblings, who is undoubtedly offered the film’s most beautiful moments, is as inhabited by his character as he was when he played a drug trafficker willing to do anything to escape the death penalty in The law of Tehran.

The film also presents something of a reminiscence of that film, while taking on completely different genres, then it’s not the only familiar face to appear. Payman Maadi as we have seen in Asghar Farhadi’s film (About Elly, A separation), excels both in his role as the pathetic and deceitful brother and in the skin of the seasoned policeman, while Farhad Aslani, who played a judge who crumbles during the paperwork, is illustrated here in the role of the cadet in charge of the family’s expenses . . About Law of Tehran was a thrilling thriller that reveals the enormous complexity of the relationship between power and influence in a society plagued by drug trafficking, Leila and her brothers, family drama, whose pace is also based on the verbal contests between the characters, does not skimp on its tension.

©Amirhossein Shojaei.

The law of the market

Roustaee’s earlier films distilled a breathless uncertainty until the very last moments of the story, where the scales could tip one way or the other at any moment; until the final moments of the feature film, no one was safe, neither the representative of the state nor his dissident, upsetting all moral benchmarks. Leila and her brothers, in another register, this reproduces the same “uncertainty principle” as Leila (and her brothers, therefore out of work) for nearly three hours try their best to set up a business to lift their family out of poverty, while their The embittered, heartbroken and lamenting father, Esmaïl, seems ready to trade his family’s already precarious well-being for the honors that accrue to him as the family’s new godfather.

By virtue of tradition, the latter is actually called upon to offer the first and most significant gift at the wedding of Bayram’s son (Mehdi Hoseininia), his cousin. If the siblings can never quite bring themselves to confiscate the father’s pride (Saeed Poursamimi), Leila will never be able to let the blinded patriarch lead his family to ruin.

Test, Raeed Roustaee’s film is no doubt, but it is nevertheless fascinating in every corner. Leila and her brothers is certainly more caulked but no less effective than its predecessor and thus constitutes a new tour de force for the 32-year-old Iranian filmmaker. Every word is carefully weighed, the struggle is entirely in appearance and the verbal logorre that characterizes the exchange between the characters.

©Amirhossein Shojaei

The filmmaker thus gives birth to a disillusioned family fresco, crossed here and there by a symbolism that is admittedly a bit emphatic – the staging of Roustaee, which in turn advocates the vertical architecture of the place, from Manuchehr’s apartment (Payman Maadi) to the very structure of the family home as if to denote, very or even too literally, the dysfunction of the social ranger – but ultimately compensated by the film’s intense dramaturgy, like a Greek tragedy. Disgrace, betrayal, fortune, crisis, death, where everything is played out and where everything is tied.

Criticism of Iranian society and its institutions, certainly less virulent, venomous and incisive than in his previous films, is still there in the background, suffocating his characters as the noose tightens around them. Once again, their fate depends less on their multiple efforts, which on the whole seem quite unsuccessful, than on the cogs of the system and the inexorable law of the market—bank loans, exchange rates, gold prices, etc.—all mechanisms that tragically get the better of individuals . Despite its deliberately exhausting side, Leila and her brothers is nonetheless a searing manifestation of the ferocity of current Iranian cinema at a time when its protagonists are blindly thrown into prison by a government more than ever overtaken by the power of fiction.

Leila and her brothers by Saeed Roustaee, 2.49, with Taraneh Alidoosti, Navid Mohammadzadeh, Payman Maadi, in theaters August 24, 2022.

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