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When Leila and Reza meet by chance at a gathering, they fall immediately in love and are married. Soon after, they discover Leila cannot bear children. Theirs is a deep and simple passion – they are playful, happy and absorbed in one another. But the phone keeps ringing, and invariably it is Reza’s meddling mother on the line, insisting that Reza must have a child, imploring Leila to allow him to take a second – and fertile – wife. Madar Jan has a very convincing way about her, and soon Leila finds herself stepping along an unthinkable path.
In the title role, Leila Hatami is simply captivating, imbuing her character with a gracious pride that masks a faltering spirit within – all the more heartbreaking because she shares her pain almost exclusively with the audience. Dariush Mehrju’i makes masterful directorial choices in this film, placing his characters firmly and fatefully in opposition; ‘Leila’ is gently melodramatic, providing access to a deep well of emotion. But he avoids dramatic peaks, relying instead on quiet turning points as Leila patiently tests the limits of her endurance and devotion, tragically not recognising that she is sacrificing herself for all the wrong reasons.