Russia | Germany | Belarus 2020
Opening September 24, 2020
Directed by: Vadim Perelman
Writing credits: Ilja Zofin
Principal actors: Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Lars Eidinger, Jonas Nay, Leonie Benesch, Alexander Beyer
In 1942, a young Belgian named Gilles (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), has been rounded up by the SS and is driven to an empty area in the forest with other Jewish prisoners. They are split into groups and gunned down, but Gilles manages to escape the bullets and in desperation to live claims that he is not Jewish, but rather Persian. To his luck, the officer in charge of the kitchens at the local concentration camp was looking for a Persian to teach him the language. In order to survive, Gilles must invent and memorize an entire language and somehow teach it to this officer. Tension mounts as the difficulty of the task increases and Gilles is faced with morality of what he must do to survive.
With a quick pace and talented cast, Persian Lessons presents a slick façade which is easy to market and consume. However, even a moment’s reflection reveals that there is something off-putting about this new entry into the genre of Holocaust media. The circumstances feel too contrived, the images of suffering too blatantly manipulative, the message to cookie-cutter. The Holocaust is one of the worst events of human suffering in modern times and films such as this one do little to either further our understanding of the tragedy or express much artistically, they are simply made to cash in on the odd fascination that people have with tragic events. With some more introspection and character development, perhaps Persian Lessons could have been something more than the clichéd and calculated film it turned out to be. Unfortunately, the result was a film with promise that never reached its potential. (Rose F.)