Persian lessons is a surprise of a bunch of directions. Director Vadim Perelman is Ukrainian. A year ago, the film was presented for the Oscars as coming from Belarus but was disqualified because too few Belarusians worked on it. The film mixes absurdities, improbabilities, a certain graphic Nazi brutality, unexpected tender moments – which you don’t trust – and something like surrealism.
Gilles, performed by Nahuel Perez Biscayart, an Argentinian actor, is a young Frenchman on the verge of being shot by the Nazis when he proclaims that he is Persian and not a Jew. A Nazi officer on the scene happens to dream of opening a restaurant in Tehran – and he wants Gilles to teach him to speak Persian, or Farsi. Gilles does not know a word of Farsi, but he invents a vocabulary for the Nazis to memorize.
In a world of murder, beating and starvation, the contrast between brutality and sheer weirdness is hard to absorb. Among other strange elements, the words invented by Gilles do not sound at all like any language known to human beings. But the Nazis eat it. Much of the film is breathtaking, and you wonder how Gilles manages to remember the nonsense words he creates. The Nazi asks for the Persian words for restaurant, bread and spoon, and Gilles invents them.
It’s a confusing picture, and you can’t tell if Gilles is desperate to survive or if he’s more thoughtful than you think. There are clues – when the Nazi sees a group of Jews being led to the slaughterhouse, he says they are anonymous. But Gilles replies that they are anonymous only because the Nazi does not know their names.
But it all comes together at the end, in a scene that I won’t reveal. Persian lessons strikes you with deep and clear sadness, and the understanding of the importance of bearing witness to evil.
Film by German filmmaker Elena Horn Lesson also sneaks up on viewers. It’s about the huge problem of how to teach the Holocaust in Germany now, when there are few survivors to tell what happened, public memory has faded and neo-Nazism is coming into its own. despicable head. Horn narrates the film, talks about the difficulties. Archive footage shows German schoolchildren in the 1930s as they raise their arms in the Hitler salute and malicious teachers present an enraged version of genetics.
These images contrast with young German children in a small rural town of the present. They are children; their empty faces are level with their youth; they have neither the experience nor even the vocabulary to understand what they are being taught or to express their own personal reactions. Some of them are confused because they picked up on the rumors that none of this was true and that Hitler wasn’t as bad as people say.
During a visit to a camp, a girl says it looks good – and she’s not wrong. The buildings are clean now; the grass is green, and it’s hard for a 14-year-old to imagine that over 70 years ago people were tortured, murdered and cremated there.
I knew a woman who had been in the Hitler Youth. When she grew up a little she was horrified, but at 10 she loved it – the uniforms, the marching and the singing.
What attracts Lesson together is that the film is director Elena Horn’s confrontation with herself, and it cuts deep.
The Jewish experience around the world is not just about Nazi-sponsored genocide, and it’s not just about Jews. The film Neighbors takes place on the Syrian border with Turkey among Kurds who are despised in both countries. A Kurdish boy witnesses the persecution and, at school, hears the teacher refer to the Syrian president as “Fuhrer”.