An “Ingenious” Movie about the Holocaust Ultimately Fails to Satisfy

Based on a short story by a German writer, the film Persian Lessons is a joint German-Russian-Belarusian production released in 2020 that has now made its way to American theaters. Mario Naves finds it “an ingenious picture” whose story nonetheless “doesn’t altogether suit the gravity of its context.”

[The movie’s] main storyline is deftly introduced, tensely elaborated upon, and brought to an almost Zen-like resolution. Still, this solid movie is, in the end, oddly unsatisfying, being a showpiece whose bravura denudes it of moral currency.

The film begins with Nazis rounding up Jews in occupied France circa 1942. A wiry young man named Gilles (the Argentinian actor Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) is among those herded onto the back of a truck for a destination unknown but a fate guessed at by all. The man huddled next to Gilles offers a valuable book as barter for the sandwich Gilles has squirreled away in the pocket of his overcoat. The inside of the book is inscribed in Farsi. This chance encounter provides the seed of an idea by which Gilles hopes to evade certain death.

He does so by claiming that he is not Jewish but, in fact, Persian. The guards responsible for the execution of their prisoners, hearing this news, hold their guns. The commanding officer, Klaus Koch (Lars Eidinger), is on the lookout for a Persian. A peculiar request, you might think, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Koch is a former chef who dreams of opening a restaurant in Tehran upon the Third Reich achieving world dominion, . . . and he wants Gilles to teach him the language. Whereupon Gilles and Koch play an extended game of cat-and-mouse. Gilles, the rabbi’s son who doesn’t know a lick of Farsi, begins inventing words to teach his keeper.

Persian Lessons is no mean entertainment—it is, in fact, quite gripping—but one’s disbelief is tested more than is ideal for a movie that takes on quite as much as this one.

Read more at New York Sun

More about: Film, Holocaust fiction

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict