In Cinemas now!
(Reviewed by John Glennie)
A powerful movie from Belarus set in World War II Germany. Gilles (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) is a Belgian Jew who, along with about a dozen others have been captured by the Nazis and are in the back of a truck. Another Jew trades his book from Persia (now Iran) for Gilles’ sandwich. They soon arrive in the middle of nowhere and are ordered off the truck in two groups where they are machine-gunned. Gilles is in the second group and falls to the ground before the shooting but doesn’t fool the German soldiers. They are about to execute him when he pleads that he is not a Jew, but a Persian.’
This appears to be his saving grace as, apparently, the local transit camp commandant, Klaus Koch (Lars Eldinger) has been seeking a Persian. Gilles is presented to Koch who quizzes him and seems to believe the deception. Gilles is given kitchen duties and then he is to give Koch lesson in Farsi (the Iranian / Persian language). Koch wants to move to Tehran after the war to live and learning the language is essential to his plan.
One of the guards, Max (Jonas Nay) is not convinced and is constantly trying to uncover Gilles’ secret, with the help of some other SS guards. Gilles has to teach Koch 4 words of Farsi every day. He realises it is only a matter of time before his deception is discovered and he will be executed. When he is given the task of recording the names of all new prisoners to the camp, he discovers that by taking a portion of each person’s name he can make up a fake “Farsi” language. For example, for my name he would shorten it to a fake Farsi word “ohn” and, if I looked scared, then it would mean “fear”.
There is tension throughout this excellent movie as we are constantly waiting for the slip-up or event that would reveal his scam. Koch is suspicious but Gilles manages to keep the façade up. There were a couple of occasions where his fate and days are numbered.
Persian Lessons is a great film – knowing the fate of Jews under the hands of the Nazis there is ever-present tension and sadness. Liberation spells the end of the movie and some justice prevailing and, for the final scene, I must admit I shed the odd tear or two! At the start, it is mentioned that it is based on true events which makes it even more moving.
Please take the time to go and see Persian Lessons – I don’t think you will be disappointed.