Leila, a perfume tester (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Bahareh Rahnama), a chain smoker, fall in love with each other after their cars collide one day. The pair soon agree to marry, but on one condition: Nader must quit smoking. The problem is, Nader believes his habit is the secret to his creativity...
IRANIAN FILM FESTIVAL AUSTRALIA: Two Volkswagen VW owners meet on a snowy intersection. His car is yellow and purring, while hers is red and broken down. Once he points out that the errant engine is in the back and not the front, they have their meet cute moment as phone numbers for mechanics become something more. The only problem is that he’s a chain smoker and she’s a scent tester. If that sounds like a generic outline for a romantic comedy, then bear in mind that Meeting Leila is an Iranian feature. While the middle-class domestic drama has blossomed in that country in recent years, the romantic comedy is another matter.
a slight, if pleasant, film
Adel Yaraghi – who plays the proud VW owner to Leila Hatami’s frustrated fellow driver – turns his debut feature into a more idiosyncratic comedy, and much of the romance between his Nader and her Leila happens at a remove; at one point she literally drives past him and they banter briefly from separate cars before parting ways. The couple, who for the bulk of the film are engaged, are seen primarily through Nader’s attempts to meet Leila’s request to quit smoking before they wed. There’s no discussion of their respective family’s or romantic pasts, and the movie happens in a comparative social vacuum (just like most romantic comedies).
Meeting Leila was co-written by Yaraghi with his mentor, the revered Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, and if it initially appears a trifle that Kiarostami conceived and passed on, there are unusual undercurrents that begin with Nader’s trip to a clinic to be treated for his addiction. In a room full of men in matching pajamas – suggesting prison inmates – he cues up for an injection, smuggles cigarettes to the room next door (the windows are barred) and banters with an officious matron about the nature of choice. 'Decide for yourself," she says, which might be construed as a nod to democratic choice.
Whether that’s reading too much into the collaboration, Yaraghi’s performance tends to the self-contemplative – he talks to himself, equivocates, and fusses about social interaction. It’s a Persian riff on the neurotic Jewish-American comic, and he keeps breaking his promise with the best of intentions as he struggles to pitch advertisements to clients such as a chicken farm and a pasta manufacturer without the reassuring hit of nicotine. The problem with that is that it sidelines Hatami, so impressive in Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, whose character could have more impact on the sometimes tenuous storyline.
The humour is compact, low-key and wryly observational. It makes for a slight, if pleasant, film, and Yaraghi probably didn’t need to match his visual style to Kiarostami’s canonical aesthetic of fixed cameras and minimal cutting; a vehicular camera placement basically holds up a sign that says 'I [heart] Taste of Cherry". Yaraghi has his character down, but whether out of choice or regulation there’s no foil to goose his eccentric inclinations. Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy wouldn’t have made half as many films together if they were kept as far apart as Yaraghi and Hatami.