Inspired by true events, the film begins in France, 1942. While travelling on his way to Switzerland, a Jewish man named Gilles (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) is captured and taken to a concentration camp in Germany. During his transportation to the camp in a truck, Gilles meets a man who is so desperate for food that he offers Gilles a book for his last and only sandwich. Gilles agrees, but out of a desire to help the man. However, as soon as Gilles opens the book, he learns more details about the previous owner.
When Gilles is to be executed, he falls to the ground, revealing the book and the text written in Persian. Pleading for his life to be spared, Gilles claims to be Persian. Instead of being executed, he is taken to the camp leader, who has requested to speak with any Persians who get captured. Now Gilles has been given a second chance at life and must take on a new identity as he meets Klaus Koch (Lars Eidinger), the Camp Commander who wishes to learn the Persian language. While still being a prisoner, Gilles begins to meet with Klaus and becomes his Persian teacher. The question is, can Gilles continue to carry the secret and ultimately hold a lie about not being a real Persian?
Persian Lessons is best described as a war drama film. While watching, I constantly wondered if Gilles would get found out or if he was, in fact, able to get away with his lies skillfully. Thankfully the film also has multiple moments that feel raw, tense and even, at times, mysterious. Performances are a major highlight of this film, especially whenever Gilles and Koch share the screen. It’s quite interesting to see their relationship develop and get tested in many ways at times. The two leads share moments that allow them to be open with each other, while at other times, they are forced to hide and live in fear of each other. It’s an interesting balance, which I felt worked well and these leads kept me highly invested in the film.
The musical score is also a nice element, especially during the final act, where the score worked wonderfully. For the most part, the pace is great, but some moments do overstay their welcome slightly. Thankfully, the slower moments certainly have a worthy payoff, or at least I felt so as the film’s ending credits appeared on my screen.
Overall, this is a touching war film with dramatic moments and a pleasing element of mystery. As a film based on true events, I was surprised by this story, and the outcomes are quite unpredictable. Leading performances are key strengths, along with the film’s musical score. Pacing is great with some slower moments, but thankfully, the ending felt highly rewarding and powerful as a payoff.