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Laramie Movie Scope:
Persepolis

Filled with traumatic events, failed to get a firm grip on my emotions

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2007; French) This animated feature film, drawn from Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel, considering the plethora of traumatic events retold, failed to get a firm grip on my emotions. Most of the action is a recall of Marjane's life, going back to 1978 in Tehran when she was seven, depicted in black-and-white images to contrast with the present, concluding with her once again leaving Iran for France in 1993.

In the streets as people are protesting against the Shah, her parents contradict her teacher's lessons about Iran's monarch, explaining to Marji (voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) the actual history of his coming into power, which involved the imprisonment of her grandfather for being a communist. Her dear, widowed grandmother lives with Marji as well. A fan of Bruce Lee's films, the precocious girl communicates with God and believes she will be the next prophet. Her parents welcome into their home a friend recently released from prison, who tells of the torture he endured at the hands of CIA-trained jailers.

After the Shah's dethronement, initially there is euphoria and high expectations for the future. Her Uncle Anoush relates his harrowing life story to Marji, which involved fleeing from the Shah's army to the USSR, as he shapes a bread swan for her while instructing: "The family memory must live on." Nationalism and religion are the only means of uniting the people, say the revolutionaries, who imprison Uncle Anoush as well for his subversive ideas.

Next the Iran-Iraq war explodes, resulting in more repressive laws, arrests, and executions. In 1982 as the teacher attempts to indoctrinate the female students about the importance of wearing the veil, warning them of going to hell if they don't, Marji and her friends are first fascinated by the BeeGees and Abba followed by Michael Jackson and Iron Maiden. Air-raid sirens, bombardments, and empty shelves in the stores are a daily reality along with threats from the morality police for inappropriate clothing. Men are encouraged to become martyrs whence they will be reward with virgins and delicious dishes in paradise.

While Marji and her family attend secret parties with alcohol to disguise despair, Uncle Taher needs a passport to have heart surgery outside Iran; but the hospital director, formerly a window washer, refuses authorization. After Marji talks back at her teacher, accusing the woman of dispensing propagandistic falsehoods, for her safety her parents send her to a French school in Vienna, where she encounters nihilism and the youth subculture.

Maturing into a young woman, initially denying her roots by referring to herself as French to fit in, then - thinking of the contrast of her existence with that of her family in Tehran - embracing her heritage with a vengeance while disagreeing with her former friends that life is absurd, Marjane finds new comrades who throw anarchist parties. Swearing off love when her first boyfriend announces he's gay, she nevertheless falls for another guy who also disappoints her with infidelity.

Accused of stealing by her landlady, Marjane leaves, struggling to live on her own in the streets, scrounging for food and shelter. Surviving a serious illness, she returns to Tehran where after eight years of a meaningless war with Iraq, the city makes her think of a cemetery with streets renamed from among one million martyrs. "You've wasted the best years of your life," her mother abjures. Taking pills prescribed by a psychiatrist for depression, Marjane's mood becomes suicidal until another vision of God exhorts her to get her life together.

Tehran in 1992 has a split personality of heavy censorship (in her art and anatomy classes the models must be fully covered), enforced by gun-toting guardians, while most people, dispensing with political discussions, seek personal escape. After disappointing her grandmother - "You're a selfish bitch!" - for boasting of accusing an innocent man of immoral conduct to protect herself from being discovered wearing immodest clothing, Marjane earns Grandma's praise for asking inconvenient questions during a lecture at the university.

Disappointing her mother - who wanted Marjane to become a well-educated, emancipated, cultured woman - Marjane at 21 decides to marry Reza since getting caught seeing each other unchaperoned can result in fines or lashings. A year later after an unhappy union - a female friend advises, "If life isn't hell, stay with him," while Grandma suggests she try again with another husband - Marjane once again departs for France after a raid on a party ends in tragedy.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2008 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)