‘The Persian Version’: The Universal Conflict Between Mothers and Daughters

Maryam Keshavarz's film is a lovely, if a tad long, immigrant story.

by Adina Bernstein
The Persian Version

Mothers want the best for their children. But what the parent wants is not always what the child wants.

Written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz, The Persian Version follows the mother-daughter duo of Shireen (Niousha Noor) and Leila (Layla Mohammadi). Their communication over the years has been stilted at best. As a young wife and mother, Shireen emigrated to the US from Iran with her husband and her eldest sons.

After her husband has a severe medical episode, Shireen is forced to become the breadwinner. Success in work does not translate to her relationship with Leila. The youngest of nine children (and the only girl), there are pressures put on Leila that are not put on her brothers. Blaming her mother for the breakup of her marriage to Elena (Mia Foo), she does everything she can to avoid Shireen.

After Leila gets pregnant via a one-night stand with Maximillian Balthazar (Tom Byrne), their relationship becomes even more tenuous. But for all of their differences, they are more alike than they realize.

The Central Conflict is Perfect

Clashes between mothers and daughters are a natural part of the relationship. When the mother is an immigrant and the daughter is a native of the country that the family immigrated to, the conflict can be even greater. While some families assimilate into their new cultures, others stick to the customs and traditions that marked their lives in the nations of their birth.

Shireen would love nothing more than for Leila to have taken the traditional route, both in regard to her career and personal life. Instead of becoming a doctor or lawyer, marrying a man, and pumping out a couple of kids, her daughter has taken a different path. Leila is a queer divorced filmmaker who lives on her own terms.

For her part, Leila has given up fighting for Shireen to accept her for who she is, not who her mother wants her to be. Since she was little, they have clashed due to their mutual stubbornness. Instead of constantly fighting with her mother, Leila has cut all communication with her mother. Her energy is better spent on what makes her happy versus what would make Shireen happy.

The Narrative Lags a Bit

In total, the movie clocks in at 147 minutes. It is not a slapdash family drama with a convenient immigration story thrown in just because. Writer/director Maryam Keshavarz adds humanity and authenticity to her story. Similar to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there is a universality in the story and the relationship between the characters.

The problem is that at about the 50% mark, the tale starts to slow down. In terms of the arc of the narrative, this is when we get to the figurative meat. It is supposed to be the point at which the audience starts to get the answer as to why we are following the people as they navigate this moment in their lives. I should have been completely engaged, but I was not.

Breaking the Fourth Wall Works

Breaking the fourth wall is not the most common storytelling technique in film, though it has become more prevalent in recent years. But it works. It allows the audience to connect directly with both Shireen and Leila, understanding their individual perspectives. As the audience walks figuratively in both women’s shoes, we begin to see how much more alike they are, even when they cannot see it.

Though I am not an immigrant or a mother, I was able to relate to both characters. Born into a semi-traditional life, Shireen’s early years were difficult. Arriving in this country as a newcomer while juggling being both a wife and a mother, she had choices to make. How does one raise a growing family in a new country while holding onto your beliefs?

Leila is not just a rebel for the sake of rebellion. She loves her family and the culture she was brought up in. But, at the same time, she recognizes that the only way to be emotionally and mentally healthy is to be herself. For many people, this is a balancing act that requires choices that will cause hurt in one form or another.

Overall, The Persian Version is funny, universal, and timely. Its only flaw is that some scenes could have been left on the cutting room floor.

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1 comment

Nick Kush November 13, 2023 - 9:31 pm

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