24 Mar

Director: Marjane Satrapi (2007)

One of the things that struck me about Persepolis, in addition to its fearless portrayal of typically controversial and overlooked Iranian politics, was the fact that unlike the plethora of unconnected novel adaptations, this film was not only based on a graphic novel but written and directed by its author.  While Satrapi is obviously not the only author to go on to direct his film, it is a rarity and, in the case of Persepolis, it is even rarer that he captures the unique essence of the novel in each and every frame of the movie.

Perseoplis begins with adult Marjane in an airport, hesitating at the check-in counter to board a flight to Tehran.  Her hesitancy sparks a flashback to 1978, back to Marjane, or Marji, as a young girl of 9 living in Tehran, a typical child enjoying the freedoms of childhood, playing with friends, loving life and Bruce Lee, meanwhile Tehran is bound by the corrupt grip of the Shah of Iran. Marji’s middle class family pride themselves on their strong political views about their country and the role and rights of the Iranian people the Shah’s government seems to have neglected yet rather than use this as a spring board for polemic tirades, Satrapi gives us the chance to understand this complex and involved period in political history through the eyes of a child. Uncle Anouche, voiced by the surprisingly wonderful Iggy Pop, provides Marji’s main insight into the life of political rebellion. Returning to the family home following his release from prision, Anouche tells Marji about his life in exile for his Communist beliefs which inevitably led to his arrest.

Meanwhile, the Islamis fundamentalists win the election resulting in Iran being ruled by the oppressive Khomeni, leader of the rebels who overthrew the Shah. Women must wear hijabs and the men, including Uncle Anouche, are once again hunted as a result of their political beliefs. However, the focus remains on Marji and her experiences growing up, staging her own kind of rebellion in the shape of denim jackets over her hijab, buying Iron Maiden records on the black market and voicing her distaste for the scripted teachings in the classroom. Fearing their daughter’s outspokenness might result in the same fate as her uncle, her parents decide to send Marji to live in Europe. It’s these moments, where we see Marji merging her Iranian identity with the lures of the Western culture that I found the most poignant and stand out in the film. Her unrelenting schism between who she wants to be, or rather who she thinks she wants to be, and her heritage is described to us by her adult self sat in that airport contemplating her return to Tehran, telling candid tales of pre-marital sex, fashion and drugs – a world away from Iran.

Persepolis is both visually and ideologically stunning; yet at the same time, it manages to be a harrowing and heart wrenching account of one of the most politically turbulent periods of time in Middle Eastern history. Quite an achievement for a cartoon. But apparently not enough of an achievement to avoid losing out on the Best Animated Feature Oscar to Ratatouille… seriously?


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