Greener Pastures and
Persian Lessons end festival
The 15th annual Israeli and Jewish Film Festival concludes in fine form with two contrasting selections
By Byron Toben
February 24, 2022
The Israeli and Jewish Film Festival wrapped up with two excellent films, the Israeli-produced Greener Pastures on February 12 and the German/Russian/ Belarus entry Persian Lessons on February 19.
Greener Pastures, a light-hearted comedy, stars leading Israeli actor Shlomo Bar Abba as Dov, a widower whose finances have forced him to sell his long-time cottage home and move into a senior residence. He yearns to buy back his former residence but can’t afford it. He then discovers that many of the other seniors are taking medical cannabis, and although he eschews using it himself, ends up buying their unused portions to re-sell to outsiders.
Greener Pastures, a light-hearted comedy… was nominated for 12 Israeli Academy Awards, including best actor, director and script.
All goes well until this attracts the attention of the police as well as organized gangsters. What to do? This film was nominated for 12 Israeli Academy Awards, including best actor, director and script.
Persian Lessons is a lot more sombre but a lesson in how luck, innovation and perseverance can prevail. Here, in 1942, Gilles (Namuel Perez Biscayart), a French Jew, is rounded up and thrown into a packed truck with other arrested persons by German soldiers. One of the others is starving and prevails upon Gilles to give him half a sandwich that Gilles still has. In return, he gives Gilles a rare book in Farsi that he had grabbed from an empty apartment.
‘Persian Lessons is a lot more sombre but a lesson in how luck, innovation and perseverance can prevail.’
Reaching a lakeside, the captors order the prisoners out of the vehicle and execute them with machine guns. Gilles had fallen before they opened fire and as they grab him to finish the job, he yells that he is not Jewish but Persian. As they see the Farsi book, they are suspicious but it turns out that Klaus (Lars Edinger), the deputy commander in the concentration camp to which they are returning, had a standing request to find him a Persian, if possible. They do so, and Klaus gives Gilles lighter duties in the kitchen and also an extra job of neatly entering into a camp register of all inmates, as he had just demoted the Nazi woman who was doing that for imprecise lettering.
Gilles’ real duties were to teach Klaus Farsi as he had a plan, when the war would end, of opening a German restaurant in Tehran. Required to produce 40 new words a day, Gilles makes up nonsense syllables but to remember them, he associates each new word with a name of a prisoner he must carefully list.
Lots of ups and downs, suspicions and close calls, all against a background of the guards having their own internal jealousies, often based on rank or sex.
As American forces break through to liberate the camp, the overall Commandant orders all prisoners to be taken elsewhere and executed, while he burns all the records. Klaus manages to save “his” Persian and set him free in the woods as he has arranged his own escape by small aircraft to Turkey and thence, with forged passport, by commercial plane to Tehran but is rejected entry when his talk is revealed to be gibberish.
‘Lots of ups and downs, suspicions and close calls, all against a background of the guards having their own internal jealousies, often based on rank or sex.’
Gilles, being quizzed by the American officers as to how many prisoners he estimates to have passed through that camp, figures 25,000 to 50,000. He is able to recall for the record the names of about 2,850 of them from the nonsense words he had invented from each!
After witnessing this film, I thought of a quote from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and changed one word, namely “Sweet” to “Strange” are the uses of adversity.”
Feature image: Persian Lessons promo
Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been WestmountMag.ca’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.