Recommended Viewing Situation:
Standing by the Caspian Sea and filling your lungs with its unique air.
Running time: 95 minutes.
Director: Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi.
Writer: Marjane Satrapi.
Awards: Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Film and more.
No other animation is as politically poignant, or speaks more poetically about growing up with the realties of being outside of the ethnocentric bubble that is the western world. Persepolis (2007), based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, is the incredible film that follows a young girl (Marjane) coming of age against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution.
The animation is a seamless transition from the original graphic novel series, as is much of the subject matter; the film is co-written and co-directed by comic artist Vincent Paronnaud and Satrapi herself. The style is simple, bold, with nothing more than a gentle ‘squiggle’ to imply a plethora of complex emotions, which it does effortlessly. Although the film was released in English, this reviewer recommends the French version, as some of the translations, and indeed, the cultural significance of Marjane the character and author speaking a non-native tongue, are lost in the English/American version (ultimately taking away from the gravity of life in Iran at this time). The narrative is not entirely linear and there is no real finite end to Persepolis. However, it is a beautifully powerful story with the appropriate ups and downs one might expect from any traditional movie.
In Marjane’s (the character) early years, we watch as the daughter of secular leftist academics, whose hero is Bruce Lee, must sub-consciously attend to the political nightmare that is the undemocratic deposition of the Iranian elected official, Mohammad Mosaddegh (by British and American special forces) and the introduction of the western backed tyrannical, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The film begins with her parents in favour of the revolution that deposes the Shah. However, as he is succeeded by the religious fundamentalist (and rigidly misogynist) Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, they soon realise that the Islamic state is here to stay and it is no place for Marjane (or anyone) to live a full, rich and fair life.
Aside from the story and the animation, the voice acting is equally triumphant. In both versions Chiara Mastroianni (as Marjane) is feisty, smart and political in equal measure, imbuing an adult Marjane with the confidence and feminist vigour needed to tell a story so complex. Catherine Deneuve plays a strong yet understanding mother to Marjane with equal vigour. In the French version, Gabriele Lopes as the young Marjane is a resounding success as she communicates innocence and life at a time that rightfully should have sucked both right out of a child. Danielle Darrieux is the perfect steadfast and cheeky Grandmother, a beautiful partner in crime to a young Marjane thematically. Simon Abkarian plays a brilliantly self-assured but sensitive father and François Jerosme is a tremendously moving Uncle Anouche.
Overall, this narrative speaks of politics that are still relevant today; the film articulates the idea (inspired by Walter Benjamin and Slavoj Zizek) that in the face of leftist potential for revolution, its failure gives rise to right-wing fascist extremism (from Marine Le Pen to Nigel Farage). It highlights a political apathy, particularly with regards to modern feminism and the forgotten struggles of women that are still fighting for the basic rights westerners take for granted. It also casts an elucidating light on how modern media polemically spins the political conflicts of West and East. If we can learn anything from this film, it is that life is never simple or black and white. It is a constant struggle to be true to one’s self amongst that which interpolates us into a certain way of being. More often than not Marjane, much like the youth of today, can only really find solace in family, friends and the knowledge that freedom is out there, be it through art, music or travel. Persepolis teaches us that freedom always comes at a price and for some that price is far greater than we could imagine.