Films, generally, are made collaboratively, and when a movie inhabits me, I am eager to learn who the artists were whose contributions affected me. Persian Lessons, a film I saw out-of-competition at the Berlin Film Festival pre-COVID and knew little about when it premiered, has haunted me since 2020, and it is no surprise given the talents associated with it. It’s a multi-national production by three countries unlikely to collaborate again soon – Germany, Russia, and Belarus. It is directed by a Kyiv-born director, Vadim Perelman, whose first feature was the critically acclaimed American drama, House of Sand and Fog. Every true Holocaust survival tale seems to me implausible, remarkable, and existentially ridiculous, and so is Persian Lessons, based on a story by Wolfgang Kohlhaase, a late leading screenplay writer in the former East Germany. It is shot in Belarus, as a stand-in for central Germany where the Buchenwald Concentration Camp was located, by a Russian cameraman, Vladislav Opelyants, who signed a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and who is best known in the U.S. as the cameraman for the films of Kirill Serebrennikov, now in exile. The music is composed by Russian-born French brothers, Evgenui and Sacha Galperine, who scored Andrey Zvyagintsev’s devastating portrait of contemporary Russian society, Loveless. One of the producers is Timur Bekmanbetov who now lives in Los Angeles and who had the chutzpah to direct in 2016 a “re-imagining” of Ben-Hur without 1950’s sanctimony but with the chariot race. The protagonists of Persian Lessons are played by the German actor Lars Eidinger known by film buffs for his performances in films by Olivier Assayas, and by New York theater folk for his recent appearance at BAM as Hamlet, and the Argentine-French actor, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, whose ferocious performance of the young AIDS activist so distinguished Robin Campillo’s film about ActUp in France, Beats per Minute (BPM).
—Series programmer Larry Kardish (veteran film curator, formerly the Senior Curator of Film at MoMA, and author of a forthcoming book on Shirley Clarke)