In the outlandish Holocaust drama “Persian Lessons,” the director Vadim Perelman (“House of Sand and Fog”) performs a wobbly balancing act of horror, humor, romance and self-glorifying sentimentality in opposition to a grim backdrop of pressured labor and human squalor.
At the start of the movie, Gilles (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), a Jewish Frenchman captured by the Nazis, trades his sandwich with a fellow prisoner for an vintage tome written in Persian. Condemned to loss of life by firing squad, Gilles manages to dodge the bullets, pleading mercy as he desperately waves the e book in his captors’ faces. “I’m Persian!” he screams.
Miraculously, Klaus Koch (Lars Eidinger), a commandant, wants simply that — a Persian. The Nazi desires of opening a restaurant in Tehran after the struggle, and recruits Gilles — who pretends to be Reza — to show him the language. Gilles improvises; not realizing a lick of Persian, he invents phrases, ultimately utilizing the names of prisoners stored in a logbook as mnemonic units to develop his fictional tongue. It’s a wild conceit, and one can’t assist however snort, albeit nervously, as Koch takes within the mumbo-jumbo with studious severity.
Eidinger, an professional prima donna, brings out the tragic absurdity of males who blindly observe orders. His efficiency anchors the movie’s in any other case clumsy tonal shifts.
High tensions are constructed into Ilya Zofin’s script as Gilles struggles to maintain up the act — a fumbled phrase may imply his head, and a brown-nosing part chief, Max (Jonas Nay), has his eyes peeled. Pointless, lackluster detours into petty sexual dramas between the Nazis are sprinkled all through, and, extra successfully, suspicions of an erotic liaison between Gilles and Koch tease out their bond’s derangement.
Less kooky and gratingly valuable than “Jojo Rabbit” or “Life Is Beautiful,” the movie however additionally faucets historical past with a movie-magic wand. When Perelman’s saccharine sensibilities take over, the movie, as if by obligation, turns into a narrative in regards to the energy of human resilience and compassion — or some related platitude.
Not rated. In German, French, Italian, English and Persian, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes. In theaters.
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