The Persian Version, the audience award winner at Sundance earlier this year, is written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz and tells the story of a mother/daughter relationship in an Iranian- American immigrant household. Layla Mohammadi plays Leila, the mid-twenties daughter who lives up an energetic, hedonistic life in NYC. Niousha Noor plays Shireen, her old-school mother who disapproves of her daughter’s choices. When Leila’s life is upended by surprising news, she returns to her family to uncover the secret that may hold the key to resolving her relationship with her mother.
The performances, particularly by Muhammadi and Noor, are very good. Both actresses build a believable mother/daughter relationship that has been strained by time, distance, and recriminations. The supporting cast, particularly in a flashback sequence, also lends the film gravitas and a unique authenticity.
The Persian Version also features some creative filmmaking choices. It begins with a dance number featuring a whole Iranian community to the Cyndi Lauper song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun;” by the end of the film, that song takes on actual poignancy when it is repeated during the closing credits. Other fun filmmaking quirks like freezing time and directly addressing the camera or creative text graphics make the film lively and enjoyable.
Until it isn’t. The Persian Version attempts to juggle some wildly different tones, and it does not always do so effectively. There is a heavy flashback sequence involving child marriage and a disturbing childbirth scene that contrasts jarringly with the lightness of the film’s earlier moments.
The character development, which should be the strength of a film like this, is a bit uneven. In the third act, during a wedding scene, one character picks a fight with another character, and given the preceding scenes, this choice is odd and out of step with the plot’s development.
There is also a ton a voice over. The Persian Version is about storytelling and how we compose our lives, so there is room for voice over narration in a film like this, but too much of the story-telling relies on narration instead of relying on the images and character interactions.
Overall, there is a lot to like about The Persian Version, and it is worth your time, even if some of the film is uneven. More than anything else, the film highlights Keshavarz, Mohammadi, and Noor as talents to watch in the future.