The Ties That Bind

Or should I say the bedroom from which Leila has exiled herself? The confusion and conflation of action and reaction, especially within the symbiotic construction of marriage, is very much the issue of this film. That it's couched entirely in Leila's point of view doesn't make it one-sided. Mehrjui keeps us constantly at Leila's side without coloring the film with her subjectivity. Although we see nothing on the screen that occurs outside her presence, our access to her interiority is as limited as it is to that of the other characters. What went wrong here and who is to blame? You and your significant other could debate that for hours. Among its most unexpected virtues, Leila is a great date movie.

As far as imaginable from the monstrous mother of Leila is Larisa Loktev, a Russian immigrant and former computer programs analyst who now spends all her time caring for her husband, Leonid Loktev, also a former computer analyst, who was severely brain damaged when he was hit by a car while crossing a road between two yard sales in his Colorado neighborhood on April Fool's Day 1989. Their daughter, Julia Loktev, has made a documentary, Moment of Impact, about her parents' daily life that is as discomforting as it is brilliant.

Shot with a handheld home video camera, the film is an intimate, unsparing view of a dread situation. Since the accident, Leonid has been capable of almost no autonomous physical movement and only the most limited speech. How much he understands is another matter— there are clues that he might be thinking far more than he can express. Larisa takes care of him 24-7 because she can't stand how limited his life would be if he were in a nursing room and because her insurance company has denied home assistance. "I'm just a person placed in circumstances," says Larisa, when her daughter grills her about her choices. "In principle, a responsible, reliable person, and he has no one else."

Marital dis: Hatami in Leila
courtesy of First Run Features
Marital dis: Hatami in Leila

Details

Leila
Directed by Dariush Mehrjui
Written by Mahnaz Ansarian and Mehrjui
A First Run release
At Cinema Village
Opens May 14

Moment of Impact
Directed by Julia Loktev
At Anthology Film Archives
Through May 23

If I were not so moved by the mother, I might be more disturbed than I was about the way the camera intrudes on her life and that of her husband. There's no way of knowing how Leonid feels about having his vulnerability exposed, but he seems, at moments, to resent his filmmaker daughter intensely. The daughter is not unaware of the problem, but she toughs it out. "The only time I don't feel invisible is when I go to aerobics," says the mother. Thanks to this film, the witnesses to her life may be counted in the thousands.

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