Cannes 2022: “Leila and her brothers”, Iran under tension by Saeed Roustayi

Leila and her brothers ***

by Saeed Roustayi

Iranian film, 2 h 45

In the tutelary shadow of Asghar Farhadi, member of the jury of this 75th Cannes Film Festival, two young Iranian filmmakers were in competition this year. The first Ali Abbasi who presented there Mashaad’s Nights, emigrated to Europe and now shoots his films abroad. The second Saeed Roustayi, barely 32 years old, remained in Iran and films like his eldest in direct contact with Iranian society. With Tehran Lawreleased in 2021, the latter had already impressed favorably, signing a thriller under very high tension taking place in a city plagued by drug consumption.

Very different, Leila and her brothers, his third film presented Wednesday in competition, moves away from the genre to explore the family unit but with the same concern, that of depicting the effects on the population of a country in crisis, undermined by decades of international economic sanctions and inflation galloping.

The Jourablou family, into which the director introduces us, must have seen better days. The four sons are unemployed and live on their father’s meager retirement pension. Their only asset lies in his house which is now falling into ruins and earns them the scorn of the other members of the clan. Only Leila, the daughter, has a stable job. The young woman never married, discreetly devoting herself to her parents and brothers without ever receiving recognition for her sacrifices. It is she who will imagine a way to get them out of this situation: the purchase of a shop in the ultramodern shopping center where she works. Struggling to raise the sum requested, the children discover that their father has secretly put money aside to be, as tradition dictates, designated godfather of the family and regain the respect to which he aspires.

The influence of Asghar Farhadi

In his particular style, both nervous and tense, Saeed Roustayi immerses us in this family unit with complex relationships, permanently on the verge of implosion. Its members love and hate each other at the same time, laugh, insult each other but remain united in spite of everything in adversity. Emerging are the figures of Alireza, who hates conflict and constantly tries to ease tensions, and that of Leila, more courageous, but victimized by the weight of a patriarchal society. The arm wrestling between the two will lead to a series of decisions, each more catastrophic than the other, under the distraught gaze of the head of the family whose health is declining.

In this ruthless mechanics, where fatality plays its full part, we recognize the influence of Asghar Farhadi and his way of starting from the intimate to paint a portrait of a society in all its complexity. But Saeed Roustayi brings a more social tone. Through the adventures of these siblings, the director evokes the material difficulties of a whole people condemned to precariousness, giving up studies and marriage for lack of means, and unable to envisage a better future. Selfishness, acrimony and conflict constitute its less glorious reverse. Only Leila, in the middle of all this, seems to embody the path of reason, but her status does not allow her to be heard.

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