The Persian version tells a queer story through family secrets

This review of The Persian edition contains mild spoilers.

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Hey, remember yesterday when I thought, “Our moms are real people too, and maybe they have some crap going on that we don’t know about that could be a key to understanding our relationship with them!”? WELL GUESS WHAT?! I saw Maryam Kesharvarz’s The Persian edition and it screamed to me that EYENEWAZ CORRECT!

This film marks the Iranian-American director’s queer return to Sundance! She was there in 2011 with Circumstanceanother queer film that quietly bears some similarities to her latest film.

The Persian edition is a time jump film, we jump back and forth from the 50s to the early 2000s with Leila (Layla Mohammadi, My Beloved) a QUEER WRITER (yes it deserved all caps) and only daughter of Ali (Bijan Daneshmand, House of the Dragon) and Shirin (Niousha Noor, Kaleidoscope). One year on Thanksgiving—also the anniversary of her grandfather’s death—her mother admits she’s not bothered by the queer shit, calls Leila selfishly and tells her (and her boyfriend, who she bought with her) to leave. After that, their relationship hits a rapid and severe decline; it was already strained, but now it is becoming non-existent.

So you might be reading this and be like “Ugh, another movie where a queer person gets kicked out of the family for being queer” and basically you’d be right. But what makes this one different for me is that the queer character doesn’t accept that there is anything wrong with them. When this happens to characters in movies, they often go so far inward. They put it all on themselves to figure out “What’s wrong with me?” instead of asking others “What’s wrong with you?”

Leila, to me, had done nothing but be herself in a family that asked her not to be since she was younger, and not just in terms of sexuality. She played basketball, wore mismatched clothes that she loved, and wanted to write, while her family—namely, her mother—wanted her not to be “so much.” She didn’t discourage her, but she didn’t particularly encourage her either. Then in her adulthood, when her father’s health is on the decline, she inserts herself back into her family’s life, learning family secrets from her mamajoon (Bella Warda, Radio dreams).

These secrets allow her to see and understand her mother more – but do not excuse her actions. I loved it because even if someone has had pain in their past, that doesn’t give them a free pass to mistreat you in the future, even if they are family. It can help you understand where their actions are coming from and allow them to extend grace, and that’s all you can ask for.

Kesharvarz wanted to tell an immigrant story and the film is based on her own life. It’s about an Iranian-American family, and it’s one of three films (including Shayda and Joonam) at Sundance this year by an Iranian woman. All three allow Iranian women’s stories to be told and their voices to be heard, while countless others struggle not to be silenced and are imprisoned, beaten and murdered as they do so.

I often talk about how movies can be fun and silly, but my favorite part about it is connection. Kesharvarz uses family secrets, pop culture and lived experiences to connect us to a full and sweet story of mothers, daughters and womanhood. There are twists and surprises, but what I took away the most is the importance of understanding. We may never know all the details of someone’s past, but when you learn it, a little understanding can go a long way.

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