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IN SHORT: For students and arthouse buffs
Let's deal with the positives first, since y'all know that Cranky doesn't spend a lot of time at foreign flicks, and neither do you. The end of '98 saw all the film student mentality film singing the praise of the burgeoning film industry in Iran, yes, Iran. The papers here in New York have run many inches of type on the career of Iranian born and UCLA Film educated Dariush Mehrjui.
Mehrjui walks a razor's edge in the new to U.S. release Leila, and delivers a film which can be seen as both an affirmation and a condemnation of the Muslim practice of allowing a man to take a second wife, if the first cannot give him a child. Male child, specifically. The story is simple: Leila (Leila Hatami) and Reza (Ali Mosaffa) fall almost instantly in love and marry after a three months long courtship. When it becomes apparent that their efforts to have children are not working, they head for the doctor. Reza's mother (Jamileh Sheikhi), not content to wait for her first grandson, begins pressuring Leila to allow Reza to marry another woman, to bear him the male that he really wants.
The catch is that Reza doesn't really care about the situation. He's deeply in love and repeatedly insists that he's happy with no children at all. Mom is insistent; the couple comes to dread the ringing of the telephone because they know who is probably on the other end, and in cahoots with her sister sets up interviews with "eligible" (ie. fertile) women. Mom gently browbeats Leila. Leila prods Reza. Reza reluctantly goes along, until one woman (Shaqayeq Farahani) seems to be right. Of course the marriage destructs and Mehrjui's script delivers a delightfully ironic twist at its conclusion.
That there are only three principal characters among a mob of support is a good thing. All the women are in traditional dress, with chadors up to their noses, and almost all are indistinguishable. Leila is pretty. Mom wears glasses. The Aunt wears a scarf and Reza is a guy. Simple. The performances are fine, I guess, but the English presentation is hampered by a very basic flaw.
The subtitling sucks. Barely half the language, the bare minimum to understand the story, is translated. There's enough gaps in translation that you'll wonder what is being said that you're not being told. What is even worse is that the translation is pidgin grammar and spelling mistakes abound. Now, back when Cranky was in his post film student days, working as a soundman, he worked on several German language and one Mexican production. Without fail, the producers bent over backwards to ensure proper translations, spelling, even the tech of making clear titles on the film. The goal, to win the minds of those that live in arthouses and the critics and festival programmers who cater to them. A good show on the circuit meant a chance at landing bigger production deals for future films. With a successful career in his homeland, perhaps Mehrjui doesn't need to do that. But someone beyond his ken dropped the ball big time. Sloppy production values bother me, regardless of the value of the production.
It's a diss on the audience and is not to be tolerated.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Leila, he would have paid...
Rental level, if you really like the arthouse scene. A decent story and production values are ruined by the physical translation of this film.
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