Film Reviews

Persepolis Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi

Rating - 8/10

Based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same name, Persepolis is essentially the coming of age story of a young girl in Iran, before, during and after the 1979 Islamic revolution. The film is told from the point of view of Marjane, who was around ten years old at the time of the revolution, and so reflects on the situation from a child’s perspective, and the child of a reasonably affluent communist family in Tehran at that. Marjane’s uncle Anouche, a recently freed communist activist, is effectively Marjane’s most influential history teacher, too, so those looking for the other sides of the political argument will not find them covered equally here. As I said, it’s a coming of age story with a side order of politics, not a political essay. And it’s all the better for it.

After the revolution, with Iran embroiled in a devastating war against Iraq – you know, the one we supplied the weapons for – Marjane is sent abroad to Austria to attend school by her parents. The film follows her experiences there, as she gradually loses touch with her homeland and struggles with her identity, trying, with limited success, to integrate herself into Austrian society. This segment of the film offers a pleasantly distracting comedic element (the Viennese anarcho-punk scene, a string of useless boyfriends) but there are also poignant scenes as the European experience turns sour for the teenage Marjane. Crushed by a series of unfortunate events, she heads back to the now very different Islamic Republic of Iran to attend college and, eventually, to undergo a political re-awakening that will see her return to Europe once and for all.

While sarcasm, humour, and politics are never far away, it is the strength of its supporting characters and the depth of their relationships that makes Persepolis great. Key to the film’s success is Marjane’s bond with her grandmother, a charismatic, wise and above all loving lady whose words of wisdom (”the first marriage is only practice for the second one”) are matched only by her beauty tips - I certainly wasn’t aware of the cosmetic powers of a bowl of cold water. (Watch the film, you’ll see what I mean).

While others might disagree, I also felt that the film’s handling of the revolution – i.e. its one-sided, childlike portrayal – worked surprisingly well. Refreshingly free of preaching, Persepolis has encouraged me to go and learn more about pre-revolution life in Iran under the Shah and the revolution itself. It’s prompted me to think, rather than telling me what to think, and that distinction is important.

Still, even if you have no interest in Iran or politics whatsoever, Persepolis a great film and, as much as I enjoyed Ratatouille, I think this would have been a worthy winner of last year’s Best Animated Feature Film Oscar. Then again, I suppose it’s a minor miracle that a French film about an Iranian girl even got nominated in a major category.

* I should note that the film I saw was the English language dubbed version. Very strange to hear Iranian characters talking English with American accents; even stranger to hear various characters develop French accents as the film progresses. Try to see the original French language version if you can.