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Source: The Guardian

Mar 20, 2024

The Persian Version review – Iranian-American family comedy cranks up the charm

Maryam Keshavarz’s semi-autobiographical film uses flashbacks to revel in the 80s and examine the different world of 1960s Iran

By Cath Clarke

Energetic, funny and unashamedly sentimental, this is a warm-hearted comedy written and directed by Iranian-American film-maker Maryam Keshavarz, even if her semi-autobiographical story about life in a traditional Iranian family in New Jersey feels more than a little familiar from past movies about second-generation growing pains. But Keshavarz cranks up the charm, and the feelgood factor makes it an easy watch – despite some of the gags feeling more suited to a TV sitcom.

New York in the 00s; Leila (Layla Mohammadi) is a film-maker in her 20s, dressed up for a Halloween party in a “burqa-kini” (face-covering niqab on her top half, neon bikini below, incredible eyeliner). Leila is a lesbian but has a one night stand with a man in drag (Tom Byrne) at the party, and ends up pregnant.

In lovingly recreated flashbacks to the 80s, Leila is a smart cheeky kid, youngest of nine siblings, struggling to find a sense of belonging and identity – as she explains on the voiceover. (Her running commentary is a bit much at times.) Back in the 00s, and adult Leila is not on speaking terms with her mother Shireen (Niousha Noor), who wants to preserve their Iranian culture. She refuses to accept her daughter is gay. (“You do this to hurt me!”).

The Persian Version feels a bit soft focus some of the time, but it takes on real depth and force when the action hops further back, to 1960s Iran, where Shireen is a 13-year-old girl (now played by Kamand Shafieisabet). She hijacks the voiceover to tell her own story: married off at 13 to a 22-year-old doctor, pregnant not long after.

What happens next is the real story of why they migrated to the US – and is a million miles from the authorised family version. Overall, the film tells a heartfelt story, infectiously likable if a little undemanding. Filming wrapped a few weeks before the protests surrounding the death of Mahsa Amini in custody, arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s dress code. Movingly, it’s dedicated to all “fierce Iranian women”.

The Persian Version is in UK and Irish cinemas from 22 March.

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