Persian Lessons (M) - 128 minutes
Updated: Sep 26
Inspired by truth, Persian Lessons is the story of one man’s heart wrenching struggle to survive the Holocaust.
He – Gilles (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) – is a Belgian Jew with a rabbi for a father, captured in France in 1942 while trying to make his way to Switzerland.
Gilles is bundled into the back of a covered truck along with many others.
The expectation is that they will be transported to a concentration camp.
On the way, the man alongside him asks Gilles whether he has anything to eat.
So it is that Gilles is prevailed upon to swap a sandwich for a first edition book written in Farsi.
The novel with a handwritten inscription saves Gilles' skin in the first instance, as
Gilles seizes the chance to declare that he is Persian and not Jewish.
It so happens that the Nazi controlling the camp’s kitchen, Klaus Koch (Lars Eidinger), is keen to learn Farsi and move to Tehran to start a German restaurant in the Iranian capital after the war.
He solicits Gilles, who is put to work in the kitchen, to teach him four Farsi words a day.
Problem is Gilles doesn't know a single word of Farsi – let alone four – and one misstep and his life is likely to be over.
As it turns out, there is more than the odd misstep, not just from Gilles, but from a number of secondary characters that popular the picture as well.
Among them is one of those who transported Gilles – Max (Jonas Lay) – and doesn't for a moment believe that he is Persian and not Jewish.
During his time in the camp, Gilles witnesses no less than 25,000 to 30,000 prisoners pass through.
His ordeal and that of his fellow internees is palpable.
Tense throughout, Persian Lessons benefits from the constant twists in plot.
That is the brainchild of writer Ilja Zofin, whose work is based upon a novella by Wolfgang Kohlhaase.
Nahuel Perez Biscayart's forlorn look captures the essence of his character and the times.
He doesn't need to say a great deal, but his eyes see far too much and he is forever on edge.
The barbarity and wanton disregard for human life is a mainstay throughout.
The Nazis are painted as self-serving tyrants who wield power at will.
For his part, Lars Eidinger brings a double-edged sword to his characterisation of the German who enlisted on a whim.
Vadim Perelman sets a clear direction and doesn’t stray from the path.
His work may not have the nuances that the finest Holocaust movies such as Schindler’s List, The Pianist and Son of Saul have, but it drives home the oppressive nature of the regime and the impending doom that permeates those caught in the maelstrom.
Rated M, Persian Lessons scores a 7 out of 10.