Presented at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in official competition, “Leila and her brothers” is a new tour de force by Saeed Roustaee. Meet this young 32-year-old Iranian director who never ceases to impress.
Saeed Roustaee impressive with Leila and her brothers
Saeed Roustaee had hit very hard in 2021 with Tehran Law, which confronted a police officer and a drug dealer, and pointed the finger at a ravaged society. The director falsely changes his style with Leila and her brothers, a family drama that he directs as a thriller. A powerful work that sees a poor family tearing itself apart while trying to get out of their condition. In view of the mastery shown by Saeed Roustaee, we wanted to know more about this “little genius” of Iranian cinema.
How did you start in cinema?
I entered the world of cinema at the age of fifteen thanks to a professional high school specializing in cinema. Then I went to college. It was not easy, because they only had to take twenty or thirty people. Then, I immediately started making short films, without having to be an assistant. It all happened quickly, but I feel like I’ve experienced twice as much, as if every day spent counted double.
Do you have any specific influences?
My films really come from the essence of life. I think that, in each shot, you should show a part of people’s lives, their experiences. It’s not just about making a story. The story is inside people’s lives. This is perhaps what affects the public. I learn from life to make films. And I learn to live by watching movies. It’s a two-way relationship. I’m a cinephile, but I can’t say which film or filmmaker would have touched or inspired me the most.
There is a rather pessimistic view of life in your films.
Works of art are for me the result of what happens in society. Cats don’t make dogs as they say. But I think in Leila and her brothers, there is still some hope. These are characters that are not worn out. Who are trying to change things. But it is the system, economic or otherwise, that will have their skin.
Tell me about the choice of your actors. We find in Leila and her brothers the same as in Tehran Law.
In reality, all these people you see on the screen are my friends. I know them perfectly, I have seen them in all life situations and I know what they are capable of. It’s almost terrible but, in a way, I benefit from their friendship because at every moment of life I will think about using it.
Then if you take someone like Payman Maadi, he’s an extremely competent actor. And you should know that in Iran he had never accepted a secondary role. But this character of Manouchehr intrigued him because he is very complex. And he played it with great enthusiasm.
Another notable character is Alireza (Navid Mohammadzade). He is the one who stays in the middle and is willing to accept his father’s choices.
In fact, this whole family is in a tiny apartment. They become part of the life of others because they cannot be separated. Besides, we often have the impression that they talk loudly, but in reality it’s just that there is not enough living space. This is also why there are so many close-ups in the film, because there really isn’t any room. But in life, you need room for yourself. To be able to think. This is not the case for them. They sleep together, eat together, etc.
So instead of thinking, they just interfere in each other’s lives. And in the middle there is Alireza, the only one who could leave. When he comes back, he still thinks everyone can have those moments of reflection. That’s why he has this position.
Despite the situation, humor has a place and there are even moments of joy but which are ephemeral. How do you find the right balance?
When I write, I don’t try to insert into the story a moment that should be funny, a moment that should make people cry, etc. I really represent the course of life, so it comes naturally into the narrative. Nevertheless, my Alireza character says at one point that they are afraid to be happy. Because these moments are extremely ephemeral. You know, we are in a society where problems come one after another. And we know that the moments of joy are insignificant in the end.
Leila and her brothers by Saeed Roustaee, in theaters August 24, 2022. Find our review here.