Middleburg Review: ‘The Persian Version’

Maryam Keshavarz’s Festival Breakout Is A Generational Crowd-Pleaser

Based on elements of director Maryam Keshavarz’s own life, The Persian Version is a crowd-pleaser. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize, the Audience Award, and the Screenwriting Award at 2023’s Sundance, the film embodies the idea that the more specific a situation is, the more universal it is. 

The film starts out in the mid-2000s. We meet Keshavarz’s stand-in, a recently divorced lesbian and aspiring filmmaker named Leila (Layla Mohammadi). She’s wearing the top of a burka and swimsuit bottoms and is walking down a New York street. When she gets to the Halloween party, she meets who she believes is a drag queen and the two quickly have sex. 

Throughout the opening sequence and well into the film, Leila gives us her story in hilarious voiceover, cutting to various visual bits to prove her point. She introduces us to her Iranian family where she is the only girl amongst a sea of boys. Her father, Ali Reza (Bijan Daneshmand), is a former doctor in poor health and the family is held together by Shireen (Niousha Noor), Layla’s domineering and homophobic mother who happens to be a powerhouse realtor. 

After Leila gets pregnant by the drag queen (who’s really an actor named Maximillian performing in Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and her father is hospitalized, she decides to go searching for answers as to why her mother is the way she is. This is where The Persian Version gets its heartbeat. We flashback to Shireen’s marriage at fourteen where she was taken to a remote village away from her family. As her story unfolds it becomes clear that the sacrifices she made for her family came at the price of her own peace and her own dreams. 

Layla Mohammadi gives a bouncy and lively performance, playing with the dialogue and bringing a relatability most millennials will recognize. But this movie belongs to the women who play Shireen. First-time actress Kamand Shafieisabet gives a heartwrenching performance as a young woman without control over her circumstances. There’s a pureness and vulnerability in her eyes that is absolutely devastating. Niousha Noor gives a commanding and layered performance as the older Shireen, determined to help her family succeed. There’s a sexy and aloof confidence that she touts in the first half of the film that turns into a resigned regret once her story is told. Though the story is about Leila, Shireen is the one you can’t look away from. 

The first half of the film feels disjointed like Keshavarz is setting up a series of bits that don’t fully go off or land properly. By the time, we get to Shireen’s story, The Persian Version finds its footing and is a joyous tale of an American family.

The Persian Version is in theaters now, expanding to DC on October 27th.

'The Persian Version'
Cortland Jacoby
A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.
middleburg-review-the-persian-versionDirector Maryam Keshavarz's Persian Version is at its best when it focuses on its matriarch played by Niousha Noor, which unfortunately doesn't happen soon enough.