“The Persian Version,” directed by Maryam Keshavarz follows an Iranian-American family through three different timelines, debuting in selected theaters across the United States on October 19th.
Join Leila, the sole daughter among eight brothers, on her journey navigating the intricacies of her relationship with her mother, Shireen. As she attempts to bridge the gap, the narrative unveils a family secret, imparted by her grandmother, Mamanjoon. Presented through three distinct timelines, each segment offers a glimpse into the family’s life.
The storyline delves into Shireen’s childhood in Iran, the family’s dynamic in 1980s New York, and their present-day interactions, shaping the storytelling for the movie.
Closely based on Keshavarz’s own biographical story, the film delves deep into the complexities of cultural identity, familial bonds, traditions and the universal themes of immigration. “The Persian Version” resonates with audiences of all diverse backgrounds, it seamlessly blends hints of Persian heritage with the universal struggles of the immigrant experience.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
Keshavarz joined us to share the creative process behind “The Persian Version.” and her portrayal of the intergenerational dynamics and the broader resonance it holds for audiences worldwide. Through her artistic lens, Keshavarz captures the essence of the universal themes of love, loss and resilience.
WATCH THE INTERVIEW HERE:
Today is all about the Persian Version, how you’ve made this story from the bottom up. I know the Persian Version resonated with so many viewers, including me. I know so many people have probably asked you before, can you share what spelling is inspired by your own personal stories from the Persian American experience and community? Can you want to tell me what the story meant to you?
MARYAM: It’s more of a semi-biographical film about my family. It’s about three generations of women, and about me growing up in New York with eight brothers and one bathroom story of the family, secrets and how this strange mother and daughter through the decades until they can finally reconcile with each other, and break the cycle of trauma. More than anything it’s a comedy about the Iranian-American experience. What it’s like to grow up in New York, and be of two different cultures, also our family story back home. I really wanted to make something that was reflective of our community, and I grew up not seeing our images in the media at all. When it finally did come up we were always terrorists or something negative. It didn’t seem truthful at all to me or my experience, and all the xenophobic rhetoric was coming out a couple years ago. I thought ‘You know what the best way to break through is to create a funny film about our culture that people can relate to.’ So that was my driving force in making a film. I wanted to make a film that was authentic about our community, but was also fun at the same time!
For sure, you definitely balance the humor and the cultural authenticity within the film!
You depicted both life and Iran and Brooklyn, how did you approach the challenge of seamlessly weaving these two (three) timelines together?
MARYAM: It’s actually three timelines! It’s actually very challenging, it’s 60’s Iran, 80’s New York and present day New Jersey. It was certainly challenging! In the film the daughter has problems with her mother, so the grandmother told her that if you want to understand your mother, you should write about her. So that becomes the first impetus of trying to break the barrier of the past, and the present to see how they’re connected. But in the film, the main character learns about a family secret. (She) learns that we all have a story about why our parents came to America, And she finds out that that’s actually not true. Your parents didn’t come to America because they were recruited as doctors because there weren’t enough doctors. They came because they were escaping a scandal. I think I use that structure of understanding the secret from the three generations of a woman’s point of view, as a way to bind different timelines. You have the daughter’s point of view which is more 80’s/90’s pop-feeling. We have the grandmother as all grandmothers do tell tall tales so it’s more like a spaghetti western and then you have the mother who demands to tell her own story and that’s more like an Iranian neorealist slower film. I tried to not only with the timelines, but also have every character lead a type of style of the section. So each section is stylised differently, it’s supposed to be reflective of the story. It certainly was a great feed to try to encapsulate a huge Iranian-American and their eight kids and their family stories within less than two hours. But I thought the driving force was trying to understand her mother, and that was the driving force of why we would jump timelines.
Persian culture has elements of dancing, artists like Googoosh, home decor. I looked at the home and I’m like ‘That’s my house!’ Can you discuss the importance of showcasing these cultural details, big or small, in your work for the audience?
MARYAM: It’s funny because I think for a Persian, we grasp onto a lot of those details and some jokes are not even translated to English. It’s the details, at the same time I want to make sure that even through the specificity that the audience understood the main drama of the scene. So, always couching it in with an eye of making sure that they were types of conflicts any audience member could understand. I think if you’re Italian or Irish, whatever you might be, you feel like this is your family but just the details are different, just the food is different. I wanted to show the immigrant culture, we’re Persian but we’re eating Chinese food. ‘Cause we love Chinese food! There’s scenes where they’re eating Tadig or Sabzee, but there’s also scenes where they’re eating noodles and dumplings. That’s also very New York, right? The interaction of different cultures. It’s a very subtle thing but more than anything you try to be very specific to this particular family, which is when they bring a little bit of Iran in America and we brought a little bit of Americans it was that kind of exchange.
Delving deeper into the dynamics of the characters, particularly Shireen, Keshavarz and I spoke of Shireen’s challenges, beginning with her challenging childhood experiences, including being pregnant in her teens and the sudden relocating from Iran to New York at a young age. As the story unfolds, we witness her resilience in raising nine children while pursuing her education, eventually becoming a realtor dedicated to assisting fellow immigrants in finding permanent homes. Her empowering words, “Your success is my success,” serve as a testament to her unwavering commitment to helping others. Throughout, she embodies the relatable immigrant mother some of us may know, exemplifying unwavering dedication, hard work and tough exterior.
Other cinematic elements include storytelling through snapshot photos and the scoring. The movie’s opening notes feature Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” setting the tone at the beginning. As the movie draws to a close, a Persian-influenced rendition of the song echoes, prompting Keshavarz to reflect, “For me, it was the perfect song for a film that celebrates three generations of strong women who simply want to have fun.”
Longing to capture facets of the Iranian-American experience, Keshavarz crafted “The Persian Version,” distributed by Sony Picture Classics and Stage 6 Films. Catch the movie in select theaters across the U.S. starting October 19th, and for more information, visit their Instagram page.