Theatrical Release Planned for Sundance Award-Winning Film “The Persian Version”

The film follows Iranian American Leila as she strives to embrace her opposing cultures. When her family reunites in NYC, Leila attempts to separate her “real” life, where she is a lesbian pregnant from a one-night stand with a presumed drag queen, from her family life as a good Muslim daughter.

Theatrical Release Planned for Sundance Award-Winning Film “The Persian Version”
The cast of "The Persian Version" have a chemistry that outlets are calling "irresistible."

Earlier this year, “The Persian Version” (2023) made headlines with its highly acclaimed premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Winning both the Audience Award and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, “The Persian Version” delivers a universal and timely story of the Iranian and the Iranian American experience. And quite soon, it is making a theatrical run by way of Sony Pictures.

"I never thought I had to lose my Muslim identity because I was queer." 

“The Persian Version” is a family comedy-drama written and directed by queer Muslim filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz. The film follows Iranian American Leila (Layla Mohammadi) as she strives to find balance and embrace her opposing cultures, all while challenging the labels society projects upon her. When her family reunites in New York City for her father’s heart transplant, Leila desperately attempts to keep her “real” life, where she is a lesbian pregnant from a one-night stand with a presumed drag queen, separate from her family life as a good Muslim daughter. However, when her secret is unceremoniously revealed, so are the distinct parallels between her life and that of her mother Shireen (Niousha Noor), with whom she greatly clashes.

From here, the film shifts focus from Leila to Shireen (whose younger self is played by first-time actor Kamand Shafieisabet), who was married off to Leila’s father (Shervin Alenabi) at the age of 13. These new truths offer new perspectives for both mother and daughter, allowing the possibility for them to heal and reconcile in a way that neither had before imagined possible.

Keshavarz has a history of taking big swings with her filmmaking. She made her directorial debut at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival with the queer drama “Circumstance;” just like “The Persian Version,” the film went on to win that year’s Audience Award for dramatic feature. Set in Tehran, “Circumstance” focuses on an upstanding Iranian family dealing with their sexually rebellious daughter and a son who replaces his drug addiction with a zeal for fundamentalist ideology. Since the release of “Circumstance,” Keshavarz has been banned from Iran.

When speaking about “Circumstance,” Keshavarz earlier told The Guardian that, "As a young girl growing up, I had not seen much on film I could identify with – not just sexual orientation but sexuality.” It’s clear that bold, queer strokes are an important part of the emotional core of “The Persian Version” as well. Keshavarz deliberately presents Leila's queerness as an irrefutable part of her identity that is in no way in contention with her cultural sense of self. "It's not usually how we see [sexuality for characters like this],” Keshavarz told MovieWeb. "It was important for me to move beyond that traditional narrative and go to the next level, particularly for Leila. She's someone — I'm someone — who's never seen it as a zero-sum game. I never thought I had to lose my Iranian or Muslim identity because I was queer." 

Putting queerness aside (if that were possible with this narrative), the story of “The Persian Version” is deeply personal to Keshavarz. "It's largely autobiographical," she said in the same conversation with MovieWeb, where she revealed that her family had a secret similar to that of Shireen’s in the film. "As immigrants, we have this identity that's very much based on a story of why we came to America and the West. And when my grandmother revealed this big secret [like that], it upended my identity in some ways.”

At the end of the day, Keshavarz says that “The Persian Version” is the sort of film that she’s always wanted to see on the big screen. "It's like the epic immigrant story that bridges Iran and the U.S. and shows both stories, the Iranian and Iranian-American experience … I wanted to get back to my roots in making this film, about what's important to me as a writer and artist, and talking about my community." Judging by the audience’s positive reactions to her film at Sundance, she’s been successful.

“The Persian Version” is an ambitious dramedy that is punctuated by audience addresses in the vein of “Fleabag” (2016 - 2019), a bright color palette, snappy dance numbers and a portrayal of women remaining unapologetically themselves. In its upcoming distribution by Sony Pictures, it will screen in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Oct. 20, followed by a nationwide release Nov. 3. A distribution for Europe and Asia is planned for later this fall.