Even if the title might suggest a rustic, intercultural excursion in the sense of “Italian for beginners” or “Learn to drive”, Vadim Perelman’s “Persian Lessons” turns out to be much more serious. This inevitably odd portrait of a transit camp warden set during the Holocaust, who has been led to believe that he learned Farsi from a Persian prisoner who is in fact a Belgian Jew, relies heavily on two powerful performances that help distract from the ongoing improbabilities of the plot.
The year is 1942 and among those herded into a transport from Nazi-occupied France to Germany is Gilles (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), the son of a rabbi from Antwerp who is persuaded by a hungry passenger to be his Swapping the sandwich for an old book that goes with it to his landlord. Written in Persian, the book will prove to be a literal lifesaver for Gilles, who manages to avert a certain execution by claiming to be not a Jew but a Persian named Reza Joon – the name Joon’s father had engraved on the pages .
Coincidentally, the head of the transit camp, Koch (Lars Eidinger), has announced that he is looking for someone to teach him Farsi, and although he initially has doubts about the newcomer’s claims, he nevertheless enlists his services. It’s a delicate ruse at best, but while his Farsi is a farce, Reza diligently manages to invent enough gibberish to teach Koch several new words a day over the course of his incarceration, while somehow avoiding stumbling — with one almost tragic exception .
During these lessons, Koch gradually develops a kind of fatherly bond with his prisoner and reveals to him his dream of moving to Tehran after the war and opening his own restaurant, while Reza uses his trust to help his fellow prisoners.
The screenplay, originally written by Ilya Zofin in Russian and rumored to draw inspiration from reports shared over the years, particularly the 1997 short story “Invention of a Language” by Wolfgang Kohlhaase, struggles to bring fundamental to overcome credibility problems. Also problematic is the decision to include storylines involving the film’s less compelling supporting characters, adding unnecessary weight to the already lengthy running time.
That it ultimately works so effectively is thanks to director Perelman’s firm, focused visual grip, best known for his Oscar-nominated 2003 drama House of Sand and Fog, and particularly the impressively profound drama ” House of Sand and Fog”. Depictions of the two main characters.
Slender Argentinian actor Biscayart, who won a French César for his role as an AIDS activist in 2017’s BPM (Beats per Minute), conveys the tortured guilt of a man eking out a living on borrowed time and reveals a scrap of it in the process brings sympathy to Eidinger’s betrayed cook. Despite the obstacles, they manage to bring the film to an emotional conclusion, drawing an unshakable conclusion to a survival story that feels as if something has been lost in translation.
In German, French and Italian with English subtitles
Duration: 2 hours, 6 minutes
Play: Begins June 9th at the Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles