Reel Reviews | The Persian Version (Sundance ‘23)

By Charles Kirkland Jr.

When the patriarch of a large Iranian family goes into the hospital and the family gathers, all the secrets come falling out and the relationship between mother and daughter gets tested in The Persian Version.

After a one-time hookup at a Halloween party, Leila (Layla Mohammadi) finds herself pregnant. This comes as a huge surprise to Leila and even bigger to her mother who kicked her out of the house because she was getting married to her girlfriend. Leila would just as soon have nothing to do with her mother but when her father falls ill and needs a heart transplant, his last wish is to see all his children which means that Leila would have to see her mother again. Fortunately, her grandmother, Mamanjoon (Bella Warda) knows an important family secret that has the ability to reunite the family.

Written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz. The Persian Version stars Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Kamand Shafiesabet, Bijan Daneshmand, Bella Warda, Jerry Habibi, and Tom Byrne.

The Persian Version is a story about secrets and lies and the ties that bind families together. Leila and her mom Shirin (Niousha Noor), daughter and mother, are both strong and independent women but they always seem to be butting heads against each other. Conflict with cultural traditions, parental expectations, and the struggles surrounding Iranian-American identity are the themes that drive the story from its very beginning when as a child Leila smuggled Cyndi Lauper tapes to Iran for the family. It is a beautifully told story though, full of tragedy and grief, joy and humor. It is a daughter’s American immigrant story that is paralleled by a mother’s Iranian refugee story.

Keshavarz is a little muddled in her storytelling and her shifts in tone can give a person whiplash. There are some threads that are left a little bare in this tale. For instance, how does a scandal exist if one of the parties no longer exists? Here’s a dangerous one. Does having a baby magically resolve all of your problems?

There’s a lot to like about the film. The palette of the film is bright and colorful. The humor is charming and disarming which is helpful when the movie quickly changes tone from whimsical to serious and back. At the heart of the film is an interminable joy even in the oftentimes maddening and complex relationships between family.

Grade: B-