by Afra Nariman
The Persian Version (2023)
Director: Maryam Keshavarz
Stars: Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Samuel Tehrani, Kamand Shafieisabet, Bijan Daneshmand, Bella Warda, Shervin Alenabi, Jerry Habibi
“I came to America. I left everything behind. Everyone I knew, everything familiar. My food, my family, my language. So I could narrate my own story. Control my own destiny. Take care of my own life.”
When The Farewell (2019) was released a few years ago, I immediately felt that it had been one of, if not the most significant film I had seen about the 2nd generation immigrant experience. I had hoped that it’s impact would reverberate, that it would inspire more immigrant/2nd generation American stories to be told across various cultures. The Persian Version definitely feels inspired by The Farewell, bringing a completely unseen before perspective on the Iranian American experience within the diaspora. (There’s even a beautiful moment where the daughter character, in need of cheering up, dances outdoors with her grandmother).
By highlighting the stories of a mother and daughter — both individually and their relationship with one another — The Persian Version interweaves an exploration of both the Iranian identity, and the Iranian American identity; the immigrant experience and one of the 2nd generation in the diaspora. These are very different things. Through both of their individual stories, we observe the experiences of women in Iranian culture and society — the ways they are similar across generations, and the way they differ for the next generation born in the diaspora. The film also illustrates the fractured Iranian American identity, and shows how those of us stuck in the middle, are left wondering how to think about our identity as Iranian Americans. This is something that is often grappled with more and more as we grow older, but is always there growing up as well.
“Too Iranian for America; too American for Iran.”
Truth is not singular; it is varied. Often though, this is not generally acknowledged within Iranian communities, particularly in the diaspora. There is no single immigrant story that tells everyone’s. There is no singular defintion or description of an Iranian American identity that is true to all of us. Although there is lots of common overlap in shared experiences, there also needs to be a respect for these varied truths. The Persian Version humanizes the stories it portrays, and shows that every experience is personal, and the story of each individual is uniquely their own. The film illustrates these dynamics on both a private, familial level, and through a larger, communal commentary on the varied experiences within the Iranian diaspora.
Iranians in the diaspora are too often divided. This film shows how important it is for us to acknowledge our similarities, but notably also our differences and to take the time to better understand one another, to respect one another, and to move forward and create a positive space for growth, individuality, and unity.
The film reconciles with generational trauma and familial rifts through its depiction of the mother-daughter relationship, caught in the whirlwind of cultural transitions and differences — all explored through both personal and cultural memory. It captures the intricacies and common tropes of the Iranian immigrant story, as well as the fractured Iranian American identity. While it may not be a perfect film, it is nevertheless a culturally significant one that grapples with taboo topics that are too often ignored — treated with silence — within the Iranian community in general; and the film notably portrays the Iranian American identity with nuanced care and attention to detail, something that has until very, very recently, NEVER been done in western film or TV. The Persian Version is the latest addition to the very small, but undoubtably growing list of films centered around the Iranian diasporic experience in the West.
MY RATING /5:
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