How does a Persian-American family, or really any immigrant family, bridge generational gaps to find their way toward healing and understanding? This is the dilemma facing Leila (Layla Mohammadi) as she struggles in her relationship with her mother, Shireen (Niousha Noor), as Shireen has her own past to face and contend with. The Persian Version is written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz.
The film stars Mohammadi, Noor, Kamand Shafieisabet, Bijan Daneshmand, Bella Warda, Sachli Gholamalizad, Chiara Stella, Shervin Alenabi, Jerry Habibi, Arty Froushan, Tom Byrne, Reza Diako, Parsa Kaffash, Mia Foo, Andrew Malik, Parmida Vand, Ash Goldeh, and Samuel Tehrani. Rostam Batmanglij (of Vampire Weekend fame) is the composer, André Jäger is the cinematographer, and Abolfazl Talooni and JoAnne Yarrow are the editors. Marakesh Films, Archer Gray, AgX, and A Bigger Boat are the producers, and Sony Pictures Classics and Stage 6 Films are the distributors.
The Persian Version is a story about the Jamshidpour family, but the mother-daughter story is its core from which everything else moves. While stories about immigrant parents and children are increasingly, and thankfully, more present in Western media, The Persian Version stands out by peeling back the layers of the psychological impact of family events on different generations, so much so that the story structure is almost completely non-chronological.
The linearity is based on the increasing understanding between the estranged Leila and Shireen, and the audience learns what we need to do just as Leila does. Perhaps the most similar immigrant family story in this approach is Pixar’s Turning Red, which also had the central protagonist learn more about her mother towards the end. Still, The Persian Version takes this approach to its maximum effect.
Mohammadi and Noor are masterful lead actresses, balancing and switching between comedy and drama with ease. Keshavarz allows her leads to have a huge range of dispositions and emotions as they go through the motions of their healing journey. They are stirring co-leads who electrify the screen, whether in a scene together or individually.
Through their lead performances and the masterful direction of Keshavarz, The Persian Version is a dramedy in its purest form as it seamlessly takes you from its harsher moments to the relieving balms of comedy, including the biting commentary, which again feels very true to the immigrant experience as we children of the diaspora often use humor to cope with the intergenerational and societal horrors we hear about and see. You’ll be equal parts laughing and crying throughout. In this, and so much more in her storytelling, Keshavarz has struck at something universally true and poignant.
The editing of the film by Talooni and Yarrow is spectacularly on point, as, like with our main characters, they guide the audience through the motions of the story with their excellent cuts and sequencing that make the peeling back of the emotional onion feel seamless. Jäger’s cinematography is fluid and focused, giving audiences superb shots in even the most mundane settings. Keshavarz and her team imbibe the film with an incredible amount of energy and direction that will have you barely feel the runtime as you want to know more about Leila and Shireen’s personal and intertwined histories. Batmanglij’s soundtrack gives further energy and rhythm to the engaging film.
Perhaps the only criticism I can muster is that we don’t see or hear enough about the other family members, namely the brothers, husband, and grandmother, to understand the full scope of their points of view. Still, again, The Persian Version is a strong mother-daughter story about vulnerability and healing intergenerational wounds through the prism of that relationship. It’s easy to see how the repercussions of that relationship and the experiences of Shireen and her daughter Leila affect the rest of the family. In the end, the focus on their bond is what matters most.
The Persian Version goes beyond its title to be a universal yet specific story for immigrants everywhere. With richly sharp dialogue and keen direction from Maryam Keshavarz, superb performances across the board with masterclass performances by Layla Mohammadi and Niousa Noor, excellent editing and cinematography, and a heartfelt story, this is one family story that you’ll want to revisit again and again. I know I certainly will.
The Persian Version is now playing in theaters.
The Persian Version
The Persian Version goes beyond its title to be a universal yet specific story for immigrants everywhere. You’ll be equal parts laughing and crying throughout.