The Persian Version review | A powerful, but messy salute to mothers everywhere

the persian version review
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Maryam Keshavarz’s semi-autobiographical film charts the chaotic history of one Iranian-American family. Here’s our The Persian Version review. 

Maryam Keshavarz’s The Persian Version is a film of two halves. It tells two distinct stories, both of which might have deserved their own films. 

The film opens with Layla Mohammadi’s Leila, a queer black sheep of her large family. This is mostly her story, at least until it’s not. Leila has a one night stand with an actor (Tom Byrne) which results in a surprise pregnancy. At the same time, Leila’s father is undergoing a heart transplant, which combined with Leila’s pregnancy, creates even more tension in the very large family. 

The Persian Version markets itself as a “true story, sort of”. Keshavarz took home the Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival and it’s not hard to see why. The Persian Version is an uplifting, often hilarious, if deeply flawed film about the complexities of the relationship between a mother and a daughter. 

the persian version
Credit: Sony Pictures

There’s a lot going on in the film, perhaps a little too much. Keshavarz’s film attempts to explore female sexuality from a Muslim perspective as well as family relationships, but huge chunks of the narrative are also reserved for explaining why Leila’s parents left Iran back in the day. It’s fascinating stuff, but Leila’s parents’ story feels like it deserved a film of its own.

There’s an undeniable sweetness to The Persian Version, but it’s also a chaotic film, both narratively and stylistically. Leila frequently breaks the fourth wall to address the audience, a gimmick that is later mostly abandoned. The constant time jumps from the 60s to the 80s and early 2000s are jarring and while Leila and her mother’s stories overlap in themes, they never gel together properly. 

Mohammadi is a charismatic presence and every time the film abandons her story, it feels hugely disappointing. Kamand Shafieisabet is equally magnetic as a young Shireen, but the film establishes itself as Leila’s story so early on, it’s hard to let go of that sense of loyalty to the character. Shireen’s story is inspiring for sure, but there are too many voices in this story and it proves a little confusing. 

But if you stick with the film, there is reward to be found at the end. Not everything clicks, but the pieces of the puzzle that do fit together to reveal a bigger picture are very satisfying. The narrative is pulled into too many directions and the messaging isn’t always clear, but Keshavarz never loses sight of what she wants her audience to feel. And boy, do we feel a lot during the film. 

It’s not perfect, but The Persian Version is a mighty salute to not just Keshavarz’s own mothers, but mothers and women all over the world, fighting for a better future and a better life, regardless of their conditions. There’s power in that message and there’s power in The Persian Version. 

The Persian Version is in cinemas 22nd March.

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