Persepolis is a personal memoir about growing up in Iran around the time of the Islamic revolution.
The film is an animated version of Marjane Satrapi's bestselling graphic novels and recreates her stark (and stunning) black-and-white visuals.
Satrapi's life in Tehran had all the usual elements of growing up in a happy family -- except that the background for her development included living under the rule of fundamentalists and surviving the eight-year war with Iraq.
Fix your veil, sister.
Satrapi is still a child in 1978 when the events of Persepolis begin. Her ambition is to be a prophet and she worships Bruce Lee, but even a child could not fail to notice the political turmoil all around. Historical events (the overthrow of the Shah and the eventual creation of the Islamic Republic) are seen through her young eyes, and what counts is that her beloved uncle is finally released from prison.
The changes in Iran, however, are not what her parents had anticipated. Women must be veiled, political opponents are thrown in prison, many are executed and, as young Marjane understates, "In two years, every aspect of our lives had changed."
War with Iraq makes a bad situation a lot worse.
Marjane (voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) is now an adolescent, and an outspoken one, and after a confrontation with one of her teachers she is sent out of the country for her own safety. Her parents send her to school in Austria, and the scene in which they say goodbye to her at the airport is one of the most poignant in the film.
In Austria, Marjane grows up, and does so without her beloved mother (voiced by Catherine Deneuve) or grandmother (Danielle Darrieux) to guide her.
After a love affair goes wrong, she even becomes homeless for some weeks, eventually winding up in hospital. She returns to Iran, marries young and quickly discovers that she is caught between two cultures, feeling at home in neither.
At the age of 24, she leaves Iran forever to live in France.
Persepolis is an autobiographical account but also an historical document, and as such it is both entertaining and educational.
Satrapi's life story is exhilarating and heartbreaking; filtering political events through her youthful experience of them creates a very different, very human picture of Iran.
Despite all that has happened, the author obviously loves and misses her country. (Mind you, an Iranian cultural organization with ties to the government has panned the way Persepolis presents the results of "the glorious Islamic Revolution".)
Satrapi's own enthusiasm and spirit carry the story, and the film is often very funny, although in a bleak sort of way. She herself has commented that laughter is the most subversive weapon of all.
Persepolis, which means "City of the Persians," is the burial place of kings in Iran and a site that symbolizes the ancient Persian empire in all its glory. Extrapolate at will. The film, which is in French with English subtitles, has won dozens of honours including the Jury Award at Cannes, and has been nominated for a Golden Globe and an Independent Spirit Award.
(This film is rated 14-A)
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