(L-R) Sachli Gholamalizad, Kamand Shafieisabet, Niousha Noor, Maryam Keshavarz, Chiara Stella, Layla Mohammadi, Bella Warda, and Rostam Batmanglij attend 2023 Sundance Film Festival “The Persian Version” Premiere at Library Center Theatre in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
By Stephanie Ornelas
“I want to thank you all on behalf of the Iranian community, and I want you to know how proud you make us. This film shows how real we are — all of us who have always stood out and tried to prove ourselves as immigrants.” By the time this emotional audience member finished thanking the entire production crew of The Persian Version, it seemed there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The cast and crew received a standing ovation after the world premiere screening at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
The theater was packed with Fesitvalgoers ecstatic to see Maryam Keshavarz’s film, which follows an Iranian-American woman — Leila — whose large family reunites after her father undergoes a heart transplant. Wanting to find her own identity while trying to embrace her culture, she discovers that one of the more challenging things is navigating her relationship with her mother, Shirin. When the family comes together for their father’s procedure, Leila’s secrets come out in front of everyone, resulting in chaos.
“At the center of the film for me was my relationship with my mother and becoming a mother myself, trying to understand where she came from,” says Maryam Keshavarz at the post-premiere Q&A at the Library Theatre in Park City, Utah.
“As I was writing the story, it was during the Trump era, and I wanted to create something enjoyable, so I knew I had to write something funny, much more funny than my family. I started to dig and think about why we came to America. And as I was writing her story, I realized that my mother herself is a writer. She’s written her story about coming to America, and she was writing what she saw was her destiny. I saw quickly that our lives were parallels.”
A true celebration of Iranian culture from the score to the wardrobe, the film is unique in that it spans three decades in chronicling one family’s journey from Iran to the U.S., jumping back and forth between generations. This makes you feel as though you’re building a personal relationship with the entire family.
“That’s another thing I wanted to show — how a family sticks together through all the different decades, through disagreements, through financial hardship,” says Keshavarz. “I think I wanted to blend those eras because, in essence, it’s always about this family, no matter what the era is.”
The clash of cultures for Leila, a queer Persian-American woman, is relatable to any young adult trying to unapologetically be themselves. Her mother seems to think they are both two very different people, but as events unfold leading to Leila’s pregnancy, they find out that they have much more in common than they expected.
The film also takes a look at reproductive rights, and how the topic can cause a strain between generations. Shirin didn’t have a choice in regards to her marriage or pregnancies, but Leila does.
Iran is in a crucial point of its history right now. The strife, pain, and loss throughout the country extends far beyond its borders. It’s no wonder the film touched the hearts of so many people in the audience.
“I came here as an 8-year-old from the revolution,” another audience member shared, tears streaming down his face. “And since I was a kid, until now, this is the kind of movie I always wanted to see.”
The Persian Version revolves around making choices. Not simply making the choice of having a baby, but the choice of being a mother, and that choice to reconcile differences between the ones you love the most.