“I think this story should be told all the time, especially now,” director Vadim Perelman says of his historical drama Persian Lessons. The film, set during the Holocaust, chronicles how a young Belgian man avoids execution in a concentration camp by pretending he can speak Persian, teaching a made-up language to a camp prison officer.
“There is a definite resurgence of hatred in this world and it’s never too late or too early to tell that story in order to educate,” Perelman says during Deadline’s Contenders International awards-season event.
The film had been this year’s Oscar entry for Belarus before it was disqualified earlier this week for not having enough creative positions originating from the country, thereby making it ineligible (it remains in the mix for the Golden Globes and other awards). As a co-production among Russia, Germany and Belarus, the project was a complex jigsaw to piece together for producer Ilya Stewart, who adds that the fact it contains an entirely invented language made it seem “counter-productive every step of the way.”
The invented language was thought up by a university professor who is an expert in languages. “I wanted it to sound obviously Eastern, to be grammatically correct and consistent, that was important,” explains Perelman. “We went to a philologist at Moscow State University who put together this language based on real names for French victims at Auschwitz.”
The director has a dictionary containing 300 words, including all suffix and prefixes. “I might publish it one day,” he adds.
Telling any story about the Holocaust comes with a unique set of responsibilities and challenges, which Perelman says he took seriously. “It was daunting,” Perelman admits. “For me, being Jewish, there was a great responsibility to tell the story with respect and care. But it needs to be told.”
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