Written and Directed by Maryam Keshavarz | 107 min | ▲▲▲△△
Leila (Layla Mohammadi) is a New Yorker, raised in an American-Iranian family, the only girl in a house with eight brothers. She’s an out lesbian, but in the wake of the end of her relationship with another woman sleeps with a male actor in drag at a party — and she gets knocked up.
This while she’s making a go of it as a filmmaker, writing up her family’s story as a script, and constantly at odds with her mother, Shireen (Niousha Noor). Oh, and her father needs a heart transplant, and while the whole family is at the hospital at his bedside, Leila is at home looking after her grandmother, Mamanjoon (Bella Warda), who advises she’s better off having anal sex to avoid pregnancy with her male suitors.
And this is only in the first 10 minutes.
You wouldn’t be wrong to think this picture is revving hard on the zany — the colourful directorial and editorial choices steer into the comedy, which is great. The first act promises a lot more of that, but then Keshavarz slams on the breaks for scenes of pure melodrama between Leila and Shireen, and then flip into flashbacks.
As we go along it’s clear the movie’s just as much about the family’s origins — we head to Iran and see how Shireen (played there by Kamand Shafieisabet) became a teenaged mother, her flight from her homeland and her fight to raise all those kids. We get a whole segment on how she got her GED and trained to be a realtor to realize her new life helping other new Americans achieve their slice of the Dream.
Recent movies like the homegrown TIFF and AIFF– featured The Queen of My Dreams and the Shekhar Kapur/Jemima Khan romcom What’s Love Got To Do With It show there’s plenty of room at the multiplex for romantic dramas from multicultural storytellers, exploring generational heritage and the challenges of the immigrant experience in the West while also getting us to fall in love with the fetching leads. The high energy, present day portions of The Persian Version similarly deliver, but the forward momentum stalls in those flashbacks and the tonal shifts are a lot — at times it feels like two entirely different films crammed into one.
That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if much of what we’re seeing of Shireen’s story is autobiographical, which gives the film an authenticity that’s hard to deny. Naturally, despite their variable circumstances mother and daughter aren’t so different, and how they connect in the finale is plenty affecting.