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Leila (Layla Mohammadi) is running down the street with a burqa over her face and cheeky swim bottoms to (not) match. From this first sequence, writer/director Maryam Keshavarz wastes no time setting the tone of “The Persian Version.” We are immediately introduced to hilarity and reflexive discomfort, seeing this overt dichotomy of opposing values. Yet it’s this uncomfy comedy that perfectly sets the stage for the film.
The daughter of Iranian-American immigrants and the only girl of nine children, Leila bears the weight of immense familial pressure. She is constantly straddling both cultures' equal yet disparate influences, struggling to find her happy medium in a series of environments that coerce her to pick a side. The family is united in New York for the father’s heart transplant, and consequently, Leila is forced into proximity with her mother, with whom she has a fraught relationship. Once a secret is unearthed, these dynamics only deepen, highlighting the cracks in the foundation and, by proxy, investigating the parts still left standing. “The Persian Version” takes this backdrop to explore Leila through her cross-cultural upbringing and a series of reflections on her mother’s life, flooding the narrative with beats of generational trauma and the ties of womanhood.
“The Persian Version” pulses with personality, striking an excellent balance between humor and heart. With kitschy fourth wall breaks abound and hilarious personality-driven one-liners, there's a deep sense of intimacy to the film’s comedy. The script's sharp wit and tonal shifts emphasize the emotional weight rather than undermining it. Leila, a queer woman facing the patriarchal, hetero-normative femininity demanded by her mother, is always at the forefront of the film’s events, and every laugh that ensues augments the characterizations that structure the film’s pathos. Comedy is an integral enhancement to the thesis of “The Persian Version,” not a crutch or distraction.
Mohammadi is phenomenal as Leila, seizing your heart and commanding your laughter—sometimes within the same scene. Her performance has a down-to-earth nature that lends to a feeling of intimacy. Whether she’s stubbornly playing a one-sided battle-of-wits with a one-night stand or pleading for her mother’s acceptance, she remains directly on the pulse of quarter-life ennui and shines at the film’s center. The filmmaking has a reciprocal relationship with Mohammadi’s grounded portrayal, making viewers feel like we’ve been implanted directly into these scenarios instead of being objective voyeurs.
An outstanding performance from Niousha Noor, who plays Leila’s mother, Shireen, pinches at the heart with painful but striking precision. Shireen is undoubtedly flawed, yet as the film unfolds, we see the pain that motivates her judgment and the memories that inform her actions. Noor expresses Shireen with undying empathy and care, cementing a fundamental emotional core beside Mohammadi.
“The Persian Version” eyes this family from every angle, with flawed communication, trauma projection, and snarky love authentically included. It operates both on a mother’s weaponized generational and cultural divides and a daughter’s inability to see her parents as people, fallible and in flux, part of a context outside of herself. There’s a reckoning that comes with the eventual realization that parents deserve grace, and it’s hardly ever a smooth transition. It’s subjective and bewildering, a complete but necessary shift in perspective.
Frequent narration (via fourth wall breaks and voiceovers) affirms the film’s belief in allowing these women to tell their stories, strengthening the emotional bonds that drive the film forward. Coupled with recurring shifts in timeline and perspective, this format captivates attention alongside snappy pacing, but not faultlessly. While the narrative remains intact, the jostling structure wavers on effectiveness, sometimes interrupting the film’s flow.
“The Persian Version” is a portrait of a daughter through her mother's history. It confronts the complex trouble of shaky mother-daughter relationships yet never fails to acknowledge the love and pain equally. With endearing childhood vignettes, affecting flashbacks to rural Iran, and hilariously uncomfortable moments of confrontation, “The Persian Version” encapsulates the spectrum of family (and the independence from it) with bonafide sincerity. The radical act of demanding agency in a world governed by expectation is treated with the gusto and gravity required. But the moments of life in between are permitted with tantamount priority to incite the laughs that motivate us to keep moving forward.
Now playing in theaters.
Layla Mohammadi as Leila
Niousha Noor as Shirin
Kamand Shafieisabet as Young Shirin
Bella Warda as Mamanjoon
Bijan Daneshmand as Ali Reza
Shervin Alenabi as Young Ali Reza
Jerry Habibi as Abbas
Samuel Tehrani as Shivaz Jamshidpour
Tom Byrne as Maximillian
Chiara Stella as Young Leila
Arty Froushan as Majid
Parsa Kaffash as Vahid
Reza Diako as Hamid