Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Meeting Leila (orig. Ashnaee ba Leila) [2011]

MPAA (Unrated would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing

Meeting Leila (orig. Ashnaee ba Leila) [2011] directed and cowritten by Adel Yaraghi along with Abbas Kiarostami is an Iranian film (in Farsi with English subtitles) that played recently at the 48th Annual Chicago International Film Festival (Oct. 11-25, 2012).

It is about two lonely Iranian 40-somethings, Leila (played by Leila Hatami, who also played recently in the 2011 Oscar Winning film A Separation [2011]) a chemist, and Adel (played by Adel Yaraghi) who works for a Tehran advertising agency.  They meet one winter morning in Tehran when Leila has trouble getting her Volkswagon Beetle up a small hill after a snowfall.  Adel also driving a Volkswagon Beetle courteously stops helps her get her Beetle moving up the slight but irritating incline (anyone who's ever driven a VW Beetle -- it was the car that I learned to drive stickshift on when I was a teenager ;-) -- would know its rather temperamental gearshift ;-).  They exchange phone numbers and apparently hit it off because when we meet them again, it's apparently a year later and it looks like they are going to get married.  Except there's a problem ... Adel's a chain smoker and _really enjoys smoking_, sincerely thinks it helps him in his creative work and Leila, again a chemist, one who _may_ be working in some sort of a pharmaceutical or medical lab, just hates it.  What to do?  Well that's what the rest of the movie is about ;-)

This is clearly a very simple and yet very universal story.  And then there are some fairly predictable as well as surprising elements impinging on both Iran's current cultural circumstances as well as our Western perceptions of them.

Look, my parents were Czechoslovakian who came here after fleeing the Communists.  Czechoslovakia was also in a cultural deep-freeze during most of the Communist Era.  Yes, there was the Prague Spring around 1968 but the cultural flourishing that occurred during that remarkable period before it was crushed by Soviet tanks only makes the point.  And the point is this: the story in this film, as simple, poignant, lovely as it is, is _exactly_ the kind of film that is _safe_ when a creative community is living under the boot of a totalitarian regime.  There's absolutely _no politics_ here (none, zero, nada...), just a story about a woman who'd really like to have her man stop smoking....

And yet, there are also surprises (for the "know it all" Westerner ;-).  Among them are simply that a Westerner gets to see that Tehran has "winter," something that I noted in the discussion that followed the screening of the movie happily surprised me, because most of the time when I think of the Middle East, I think of a "hot dry desert climate." ;-).

But that's really a triviality.  What fascinates me much more about this film is that in many respects this is a very "classically Hollywood/American" film: It's simply the story of one man and one woman, both in their 40s (so both would have had some definite "life experience") with almost no friends and _no relatives_ in the story to speak of.  It's basically Humphrey Bogart [IMDb] and ... Ingrid Bergman [IMDb] / Lauren Bacall [IMDb].  So in the discussion after the film I did ask about that: Would this story be realistic in a place like Iran?  And the answer was that it was basically as realistic as the Humphrey Bogart [IMDb] movie of the 1940s, the implication and _reminder_ being that Iran is a sophisticated place.  For further support in this point, let the reader remember here the occupations of the two protagonists of the story.  He was an _ad man_ a profession as "hip, happening, modern" (and arguably as "artificial") as can be, and she was a chemist.  Neither was simply a "shop keeper" much less a "salt of the earth goat herder" of some sort.  They lived in Tehran, but they could have _easily_ lived in Los Angeles, Paris or New York.

And so I am very happy to have had the opportunity to see this film and then to share it with others here.   None (or extremely few) of us would have the capacity to visit "all the world,"  but with festivals such as these we do have an opportunity to visit the world and to see that we're not necessarily as different as we may at times think that we are. 

Excellent film!

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