Persian Lessons

Persian Lessons
Persian Lessons
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A Nazi captor in occupied France catches a Belgian Jew, who then becomes an indispensable servant. Persian Lessons is a terrifying account of trickery and survival under the most horrible circumstances. This grim place is full of anti-Semitism, which demonstrates humanity’s worst instincts. Callousness about people’s lives is interestingly set alongside individual storylines. As they carry out systematic genocide, murderous oppressors engage in petty normalcy. It will fill you with disgust when at a picnic lunch the enslaved protagonist is almost beaten to death.

Gilles (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) in 1942 France was thrown into a crowded truck. A starving captor begs for something to eat. Even though Gilles has a sandwich, he hesitates. He agrees to barter it for a book on Persian mythology. The truck stops along the way to the campsite. Prisoners are stripped of their possessions before being mowed down by bullets. Gilles shrieks so as not to be killed outright; he yells that there must have been an error—he is from Persia and not Jewish by nationality at all! The proof provided by Gilles was in his possession.

Max Beyer (Jonas Nay), an SS soldier, doubts the prisoner’s credibility but maybe fate has its roles too? Hauptsturmführer Klaus Koch (Lars Eidinger), deputy commander of the camp promised ten cans of meat for a Persian one day… Koch slaps his secretary over some incompetence errors while Gilles stands before him as his personal assistant Elsa and Max are about to leave.

Koch asks questions while trembling Reza lies to him pretending he is Reza Joon who is half-Persian… “Speak Farsi!” says Koch angrily pointing towards Gillis with his hand…Somehow he manages it quickly enough yet still makes mistakes… Although remaining doubtful Heinrich agreed once that this ‘Reza’ could be engaged too. Just as Koch dreams of a restaurant in Tehran after German victory at the end of the war.

Persian Lessons takes its time for deep character development. Gilles cannot speak an iota Persian; therefore, he had to invent a language, teach a killer how to use it without being caught out as a liar. As Reza and Koch grow closer, his Iranian aspirations are made more evident… The Germans start seeing something strange about their relationship which makes them feel suspicious of both… Max is so sure that Reza is Jewish here that Elsa can win over him by revealing who she really is… She likes it because it lets her keep her cold heart from melting in the face of their intimacy.

Vadim Perelman, the director of House of Sand and Fog (2003) The Life Before Her Eyes (2007), creates tension through stark truths. Gilles could never afford to make any mistakes … He knows exactly where they will be sent either Poland or Germany were there are prisons for them waiting. The Nazis work with absolute ruthlessness. He has to convince everyone that he is somebody else using every bit of his intelligence and strength while preserving this deceit until death. Gilles has to become friendly with Koch or die from physical abuse; for this reason, Koch derives satisfaction from act carefully concealed emotions through others.… Even though Gilles finds himself taken aback when Koch starts talking romantically about love and friendship…It is difficult even picturing such brute having feelings.

Not one moment is bright enough … There’s fog everywhere.”The muddy camp was shrouded in fog…”This mud-coloured screen…”The crowded huts they live in are probably the only respite from the mud…”These Nazi gatherings look just like that “Drab celebration” does not even do justice these colorless parties”. Perelman’s choices show consideration regarding cinematography and editing decisions.

Persian Lessons is a World War II and Holocaust film that avoids the formulaic banality of most films in this genre. The violence and barbarity in Persian lessons are depicted unabashedly. It does not go overboard or become gratuitous. A picture of Roman Polanski’s The Pianist came back to me. It never comes close to that grandeur, but it still fascinates us.

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