Director: Vincent Parranaud, Marjane Satrapi
Starring: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve
Runtime: 95 mins
Referring to the now ruined ancient capital of the Persian Empire, Persepolis offers a refreshing insight into Iran, beyond the usual images of the country projected by the media. Adapted from Marjane Satrapi’s highly acclaimed graphic novels, it traces the life of Marjane, a gutsy and independent young girl growing up in 1970’s pre-revolutionary Iran.
The Satrapis, who lead a liberal, middle-class lifestyle in Tehran, at first welcome the collapse of the Shah’s regime, only to find the revolution has led to the religious fanaticism of the new-established Islamic State. Life for Marjane is a constant struggle between an adaptation to and evasion of the strictures imposed.
While swaggering through the streets in a ‘punk is not dead’ jacket on her way to get some bootleg Iron Maiden, Marjane is caught by the morality police and brought to her knees in fear. Disillusioned by what Iran has become, especially for women, Marjane’s parents send her to Vienna for a supposed better life, where she encounters the disappointments of love, education and friendship as an expat.
Given the bleak context, Persepolis impressively manages to avoid turning into another gloomy Hollywood production of Iranian politics and misogyny. Marjane’s observations infuse humour into an intensely personal account of a woman dealing with relationships, sex and depression through tumultuous social change. This successfully humanises the revolution while showing its hardships on an individual level.
Not seeking to carry an overt political statement is most probably the film’s greatest asset, instead focusing on the day-to-day impact of the revolution and its consequences; one such scene where a young man dies after attempting to outrun the guards from a party is particularly shocking. As expected of a coming of age story, stock characters; the ‘wise’ grandmother, dispensing old chestnuts of wisdom, is at times clichéd, sickly sweet and just a little condescending. Nor does it really convey a strong sense of Iranian culture, concentrating instead on Marjane’s personal psychological states in different stages of her life.
Followers of the graphic novels will be relieved to find that Paronnaud and Satrapi stay true to the form of the original; it is led less by dialogue than a series of visual statements made even more striking by the predominant black and white colour scheme and highly expressionistic animation.
The dubbing of the Anglophone release from the French is unnecessary. It is telling of the patronising intention of producers to make what is ‘alien’ more accessible to a western audience; the dialogue was disappointingly not in Farsi.
Persepolis has an important message to give to an audience that will mostly be acquainted with Iran only through newspapers. It elegantly blends Marjane’s life story within its context, managing to strike the balance between being both educating and entertaining.