May 20, 2008 -- The animated feature “Persepolis” gives the viewer an unusual glimpse into the recent turbulent history of Iran and into a world very foreign to most westerners, but its strongest suit is not depicting what is foreign, but what is common to all of humanity.
The film follows the life of Marjane 'Marji' Satrapi in Iran and Europe from the time she is a girl until she becomes a woman. She moves back and forth between Iran and Europe, trying to cope with vast social and historical changes. Despite all that Marji goes through in this film, the tragedies in Iran and the loneliness and isolation in Europe, the film never loses its sense of humor and its affection for its characters. It is a film which conveys great depths of feeling, love, joy, sadness, loneliness, despair and laughter. It represents a triumph of will over circumstance.
Born while the Shah of Iran was still in power, Marji grew up during an eight year war which ravaged both Iraq and Iran. Her family suffered abuses from the Iranian government. Her family of intellectuals had a variety of views about the government and what should be done. She also lived in a much more secular society than what was to follow the Shah's reign. Marji was an outspoken troublemaker and her parents decided to send her to Austria be educated before she got into trouble defying the strict religious restrictions imposed on women in Iran after the Islamic revolution. Marji found the freedom in Europe that she had missed in Iran, but felt alone and isolated in Europe. She finally returned to Iran, but realized after years of trying, that she didn't fit into that restrictive society anymore. She later returned to Europe, where she wrote and drew the graphic novel (she is an artist as well as a writer) on which this movie is based, as well as the screenplay. She also worked on the film's artwork with artist Vincent Paronnaud.
The animation is stark black and white and the drawings are simple and fairly realistic. They are subtle enough, however for some very humorous effects, particularly when Marji is explaining how her body changed during puberty. Humor is found in abundance during the film. Particularly effective is the character of Marji's loveable grandmother, who has led a very unconventional life. When Marji is contemplating a divorce, her grandmother comforts her in an unusual way, saying that a first marriage is just practice for the next one. Marji's grandmother is a loving mentor that every young person needs. Most of all this story is about the resiliency of the human spirit and the power of family. This movie highlights both the foreign experience of a stranger in a strange land and those elements of the human experience that are common. It gives a rare insight into a nation and a people viewed by outsiders as increasingly foreign and dangerous. It does a good job in all respects depicting all of these sometimes conflicting aspects of this fascinating story. This film rates a B. The language is French with English subtitles.
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