An Inversion of Expectation: The Persian Version

17th Dallas International Film Festival

By Alyson Powers

Right about now we need a story to re-rack the system. Sundance Film winner The Persian Version, written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz, challenges things – all the things – that make you uncomfortable. I’m more on a conservative tilt and yet still fully open to breaking down walls of bias. Who says you can’t take Muslim traditions, heat them up, and stomach a mix of accept-me-for-who-I-am medley through family chaos, defiance, love, and triumph. It paves a way for what we need right now. Anti hate. Humanity. A union forced by sharing similar soul crashing events. Current real life headlines shout for a cease of Islamaphobia. Well then, here’s a little story to help get us there.
We are all human after all.
Why is it always that dance can break us through tough walls of differences?

Prior to watching, the title and timing sirened alarms for delicate handling. But since the director does not behave, nor shall this brief write up.

All the laws you would imagine to be enforced in the Middle Eastern origin family fold when a young rebel girl whirls around fearlessly. A bundle of strength, emotion, and to be truthful: selfishness, this young Iranian-American girl assumes the greatest of risks. Family alienation. Her unflinching mother played by the Niousha Noor proves to be the star in script and performance. She may be the very one to save the world as we know it. If a headstrong mother can overcome a generational gap posing extreme odds from a future-fueled daughter, then why can’t anyone?

Father, Mother, Eight Brothers, and who might be our little Black Sheep?

The film zig zags in awkward stages, must be all the boys. Wink. With eight brothers one daughter, can you guess the black sheep? In this case more than one. Layla Mohammadi as adult Leila narrates to help connect, and playfully keeps engaging you each time you start to slip out of interest, but it’s really the younger version of Leila played by Chiara Stella with a bright deliverance of flair. And while on that word…. Flair is what keeps the Persian Version alive. Through vibrant color, feistiness, talks of using the back door (gasp), dashes of illegal drugs, two very important dance scenes, a Cyndi Lauper interlude, and tears of letting go– The Persian Version LIVES. It wins the Audience Award and the Screenwriting Award, pulling it all through with its flair alone.

Unspoken and important to note is the way you can feel motions through time, four decades of time to be exact. It accomplishes a gracious time travel out of the rugged Bedouin landscape of Iran into a nostalgic 70s home rich in polyester clothes and doilies on honey wooden tables. If you lived that long ago, did you notice a completely different attitude of people then? They say people don’t change times do, but if you think about it, so do attitudes. Keshavarz captures a great shift in attitude that completes this film and makes it beautiful. And players assist. The oversized family, the brothers, and the quirky Leila (both versions), and young and adult versions of Shireen thread an adapting purpose together evolved and transcended by attitude.

If you can handle jolts of crassness, it could be a fun PG film to watch with family during your holiday. Note: this film is banned in Iran as well as its writer / director. Also note: keep debate coming from a place of love and of thankfulness for the bonds we are lucky to share. They are rare.

15th Dallas International Film Festival