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


Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy