The latest project from Ukrainian filmmaker Vadim Perelman, Persian Lessons tells the remarkable survival story of Gilles (120 BPM’s Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), a young Jewish man in a German concentration camp. Narrowly avoiding being shot by claiming to be Persian, Gilles is spared so that he might teach one of the camp’s officers (Lars Eidinger) Farsi so that the German can open a restaurant in Tehran after the war. Unable to speak a word of Farsi himself, Gilles must fabricate an entire language to ensure his cover isn’t blown while suspicion grows among his captors.
Biscayart is astonishingly good in the leading role in this remarkable account of the unbreakable human spirit. Bearing the brunt of the narrative on his shoulders alone, the actor’s expressiveness and emotional range give viewers a harrowing insight to the horrors of life in a camp such as this. The supporting cast do an equally marvellous job, giving their characters a layer of humanity that makes them more interesting than purely evil Nazi caricatures. Eidinger, especially, walks this line of evil and sympathetic remarkably well. His Klaus Koch is ruthless in his cruelty, but he’s not without aspirations and weaknesses either. Nonetheless, he’s a fascist complicit in thousands of murders and there’s catharsis in seeing him get his inevitable comeuppance.
Grand cinematography and an emotive score further add to the human side of the plot, with a surprisingly touching culmination. Unfortunately, though, some of this is lost in the meandering storyline, which feels longer than it is thanks to distracting side action involving a love triangle between some of the camp’s officers. Offering virtually nothing to the main narrative and resulting in an underwhelming payoff, each cut from Gilles and Koch to catch up with the latest officer gossip is time that should have been spent further exploring key elements for the film’s conclusion. Once this subplot concludes, the remainder of the flick is free to focus on what matters.
With Biscayart and Eidinger giving their strongest performances yet, Persian Lessons manages to end on a note that’s both gripping and heartfelt, making it one of the first hidden gems of the year.
Persian Lessons is released digitally on demand on 22nd January 2021.
Watch the trailer for Persian Lessons here: