Iran bans release of Cannes-winning drama Leila and Her Brothers

Saeed Roustaee’s film paints the portrait of a poor family on the verge of implosion, in a republic of the Mullahs plunged into a deep economic crisis.

Embodying the new wave of Iranian cinema, filmmaker Saeed Roustaee comes up against Iranian censorship, like his illustrious elders Jafar Panahi and Asghar Farhadi. The government on Wednesday banned the screening of his feature film Leila and her brothers. In the running for the palme d’or, the drama had been very noticed on the Croisette in May. And left the Cannes Film Festival 2022 with the FIPRESCI prize (jury of the International Federation of the Cinematographic Press).

Iranian film authorities said they banned the film “until further notice” to get “breaks the rules by participating without authorization in foreign festivals (…) in Cannes and then in Munich”, said the Iranian Minister of Culture, Mohammad-Mehdi Esmaïli, quoted by the official agency Irna. According to the Iranian Cinematographic Organization, the film cannot obtain a broadcast license, given the “refusal” from the director of “to correct” his work, as the ministry had asked him to do.

For nearly three hours, Leila and her brothers paints the portrait of a poor family on the verge of implosion, in an Iran plunged into a deep economic crisis. Shot in the working-class neighborhoods of Tehran, the film tells the story of a father who hid a few gold coins. Only Leila, his daughter, knows the hiding place. But his brothers are desperate for these coins to solve their economic problems. Here, Iran is just the setting for a family story with Sicilian accents. Leila is the pivot. Faced with a spendthrift father and his four unemployed brothers, she counts on the shrewdest of them to get them out of there.

“In my films, nothing is symbolic”

Revealed to the general public with Tehran law , a thrilling thriller set against an Iranian society ravaged by crack consumption, Saeed Roustaee is just 32 years old. On his style, he claims a “social commitment to the popular class in which” he lives, he had declared to the daily Sharghadding that in his films, “nothing is symbolic”.

Saeed Roustaee in Cannes, last May LOIC VENANCE / AFP

Outraged Leila and her brothers, another Iranian film screened at Cannes aroused the ire of the Iranian authorities. At the beginning of June, Iran protested to France against the selection in competition of the film Mashhad Nights of Ali Abbasi. The Iranian-born director, who has lived in Denmark for almost two decades, tells the story of a serial killer of prostitutes in the country’s main holy city. Iranian actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi, forced into exile in Europe following a sextape affair, had also won the prize for female interpretation at Cannes in 2022 for her role as a pugnacious journalist in this thriller.

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