Persian Lessons

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Persian Lessons
Theatrical release poster
Directed byVadim Perelman
Written byIlya Tsofin
Produced by
StarringNahuel Pérez Biscayart
CinematographyVladislav Opelyants
Edited byVessela Martschewski
Release dates
  • 22 February 2020 (2020-02-22) (Berlin)
  • 24 September 2020 (2020-09-24) (Germany)
Running time
127 minutes
  • Russia
  • Germany
  • Belarus

Persian Lessons (Russian: Уроки фарси, German: Persischstunden) is a 2020 German-Russian-Belarusian war drama film directed by Vadim Perelman. The film was partially inspired by the short story Erfindung einer Sprache by German writer Wolfgang Kohlhaase.

It was selected as the Belarusian entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards.[1] However, the film was disqualified by the Academy, due to the majority of individuals involved in making the film not coming from Belarus.[2]


To prevent being shot, Gilles, a Belgian Jew who speaks French and German, tells German soldiers he is Persian, despite having no knowledge of the Persian language.[3] They bring him to a concentration camp where Koch, the deputy commandant, asks to be taught the Persian language.[4] Calling himself Reza, Gilles works for Koch in the kitchen, and invents "Persian" words to fool Koch and stay alive.

Koch hopes to learn 2,000 words in two years. He intends to visit Tehran after the war to start a restaurant. Section Leader Max warns Koch that Reza is lying about being Persian.

Koch tests Reza by giving him 40 words to translate, but no pencil. Reza must come to his office later and Koch will write them down. This task seems impossible, so Reza escapes the camp when taking out slop from the kitchen, and encounters a French man in a wood who advises him to return, which he does. Koch orders Reza to neatly copy in a ledger a list of newly arrived prisoners, omitting crossed out names as those died en route to the camp. Reza sees a way of using the ledger as a mnemonic to remember the 40 invented "Persian" words, using sections of the names of the dead. This works: he can recite all 40 words without the list as he still has the ledger in front of him.

Reza is beaten by Koch when he mistakenly gives the same word two meanings. Reza is sent to hard labour breaking rocks. Reza collapses and recovers in the camp hospital.

Other officers complain of Koch's behaviour and want Elsa, one of the female guards, reinstated as book-keeper. Koch must explain his behaviour to the commandant. He says he knows who is spreading rumours that the commandant has a small penis. While Reza is sent to labour at a farm, Elsa does the book-keeping. Suspecting her of the small-penis rumours, the commandant orders Elsa to the Russian front.

Reza takes food to a deaf Italian man he saw beaten earlier. The man's grateful brother says he will protect Reza. Max discovers a prisoner who may reveal Reza's falsehood, but the Italian brother kills this man. Max kills Reza's protector.

Koch learns that Reza has joined a consignment of prisoners walking to the train station. Koch rushes to rescue him. But the American Army is approaching the camp, and the commandant orders his officers to destroy all records and execute the remaining prisoners. After Koch marches Reza out of the camp, Max tells the commandant who takes no interest and dismisses Max.

Koch frees Reza, intending to travel alone. In Tehran, Iranian customs officials do not understand Koch's speech and he is arrested.

Escaping to the American lines, Gilles is questioned about the concentration camp. He recites to American officers the full names of 2,840 people—the mnemonic names from the ledger.



The script of the film was first written in Russian, and then translated into English and eventually German. The fake version of Persian spoken in the film was invented by a Russian philologist at Moscow State University, who based the vocabulary on the real names of documented victims of the Holocaust.[5][6][7][8]


Persian Lessons premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival on 22 February 2020.[9] It was theatrically released in Germany by Alamode Film on 24 September 2020.[10] In December 2020, Russia submitted the film to the 78th annual Golden Globes competition.[11] The film was released in China on 19 March 2021.[12]


Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 79% of 47 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.6/10. The website's consensus reads: "Persian Lessons is somewhat dramatically contrived, but it remains an effectively tense drama that's elevated by Nahuel Pérez Biscayart's performance."[13] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 53 out of 100, based on 7 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[14]


Date Award Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Notes
30 December 2021 34th Golden Rooster Awards (China) Best Foreign Language Film Persian Lessons Nominated [15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vourlias, Christopher (1 December 2020). "Belarus Selects Vadim Perelman's 'Persian Lessons' for International Feature Film Oscar Race". Variety. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  2. ^ Ravindran, Manori (8 January 2021). "Belarus Oscar Entry 'Persian Lessons' Pulled From International Feature Film Race". Variety. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  3. ^ Mark Jenkins (12 June 2023). "'Persian Lessons': Scheherazade in a concentration camp". The Washington Post.
  4. ^ van Hoeij, Boyd (4 March 2020). "'Persian Lessons': Film Review Berlin 2020". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  5. ^ Grater, Tom (9 January 2021). "'Persian Lessons' Team On Inventing A New Language To Tell Their Holocaust Story – Contenders International Tom Grater". Yahoo. Archived from the original on 6 February 2022.
  6. ^ Moosavi, Ali (5 July 2021). "Life Saving Persian Lessons in Concentration Camps: An Interview with Vadim Perelman". Film International. Archived from the original on 6 February 2022.
  7. ^ Kalvelytė, Julija (2 February 2021). "Vadim Perelman: A Common Tongue". Metal Magazine. Archived from the original on 27 February 2021.
  8. ^ Davis, Rebecca (22 February 2020). "'Persian Lessons' Eidinger, Perelman Say Film Offers Parallels for Today". Variety. Archived from the original on 23 February 2020.
  9. ^ Debruge, Peter (22 February 2020). "'Persian Lessons': Film Review". Variety. Retrieved 10 February 2021.
  10. ^ "Persischstunden" (in German). Alamode Filmverleih. Retrieved 16 June 2023.
  11. ^ Sar, Ali (2 December 2020). "Russia Sends 3 Films to the Golden Globe Awards". The Moscow Times. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  12. ^ "China Box Office: Vadim Perelman's 'Persian Lessons' Gets March Release Date". The Hollywood Reporter. 10 March 2021.
  13. ^ "Persian Lessons". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 9 June 2023.
  14. ^ "Persian Lessons". Metacritic.
  15. ^ Rebecca, Davis (31 December 2021). "China Names Anthony Hopkins' "The Father" Best International Film at Golden Rooster Awards". Variety. Retrieved 31 December 2021.

External links[edit]