THE STORY – Leila is an Iranian-American woman who strives to find balance and embrace her opposing cultures. When her large family reunites in New York City for her father’s heart transplant, she keeps everyone at arm’s length — until a secret is revealed.
THE CAST – Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Tom Byrne, Bijan Daneshmand, Kamand Shafieisabet, Bella Warda, Jerry Habibi, Arty Froushan & Mia Foo
THE TEAM – Maryam Keshavarz (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 107 Minutes
A saying repeated to many writers is always, “Write what you know.” Whatever is always the most personal tends to lead to something that feels truly authentic. Audiences can always tell when a film comes from a place of passion. This is how so many films end up becoming relatable to moviegoers and tie into the struggles they encounter in life. Art usually reflects the lives we live. No matter the difference, whether it stems from culture, gender, race, etc., we all can relate to each other as humans. In this case, filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz gets to tell a story that is very near and dear to her heart with “The Persian Version.” As vivacious as her film can be, it tends to get in its own way from becoming what it truly wants to be.
“The Persian Version” follows young Iranian-American millennial Lelia (played by Layla Mohammadi) navigating the difficulties of young adulthood in the twenty-first century. Layla struggles to balance multiple relationships in her life, most notably with her estranged mother, Shireen (played by Niousha Noor). When Lelia’s father is set to receive a heart transplant, her whole family gathers together, leading to big revelations from both Lelia and Shireen that set them on a course to finally understanding one another.
“The Persian Version” is only entertaining to a degree. Mohammadi is an incredibly charming lead who contributes to the film’s vibrancy. Although Mohammadi has dramatic moments to shine, she embodies most of the film’s comedic sensibilities. Noor tends to be the recipient of most of the dramatic work, and she is effortlessly terrific. Shieren’s whole arc showcases the difficulties women her generation experienced and how that has molded her into the woman who ultimately will become strife with her very own daughter. In essence, this is a mother/daughter story told with such a unique cultural perspective. It’s only a shame it feels like every other aspect of the film weighs down this touching story. Kesharvarz directs “The Persian Version” with a stylish flair filled with rapid edits, fourth wall breaks, and even multiple dance sequences. Yet the material seems so near and dear to her heart that she cannot leave plenty on the cutting room floor.
The editing of “The Persian Version” is frustrating throughout because it leads to the overall film becoming so disjointed. Large portions of the story focus on Shieren’s past through different eras of her life. While this helps contextualize the character’s reasoning for her behavior to a degree, it’s ultimately distracting at times. These extended sequences take away from everything else going on in Lelia’s life (more specifically, her pregnancy). The film starts with flashbacks, narration, etc., all from Lelia’s perspective. Then, as the story goes on, it begins to do this for Shireen (even more so), making it confusing as to whose film this truly is. Sure, it can be said that “The Persian Version” is equally about this mother and daughter, but that doesn’t feel established until later on. Some flashbacks also feel a bit unnecessary, and more time could have been allotted to service other storylines that are not fully realized.
One of these storylines involves one of Lelia’s brothers, Vahid (played by Parsa Kaffash), which, through some of the flashbacks and brief mentions of him in the present timeline, establishes his troubled past. It seemed this was to build to something and maybe tie into how Shireen raised her children. Perhaps not only through Lelia but also through Vahid, Sheireen would acknowledge some ways she was too demanding of the children. Instead, Vahid is perfectly fine towards the end of the film. Vahid is now sober and set to be married, ultimately undoing any build-up for this character or the drama surrounding him, as it’s never really addressed. Another underdeveloped storyline is Lelia’s relationship with Maximillian (played by Tom Byrne). Besides Lelia’s pregnancy being the catalyst leading to her and Sheirren’s reconciliation, there is not much of a use for him in the story whatsoever. It’s a shame because Byrne is pretty funny throughout, and the interactions with Lelia’s family are genuinely hilarious.
By the time audiences get to the ending of “The Persian Version,” the emotional resolution, although beautifully done, still feels rushed. Lelia and Shireen’s relationship with one another ends exactly as you’d expect, but it feels completely unearned. There are still so many questions left by the end of the story regarding other characters, but it ultimately is never treated with the focus or care as the dynamic between these two women. Lelia and Shireen are the heart and soul of this story, and we’re not expecting Keshavarz to take anything away from that. At the least, her methods could’ve been more concise in telling Lelia and Shireen’s story instead of being surrounded by unnecessary storytelling devices and characters that don’t contribute anything to the film’s benefit.