September 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Home Video

“I had survived a war, and a banal love story nearly killed me.”

Marjane Satrapi

This is my favorite line in “Persepolis”, spoken in narration since the film is a retrospective of her younger years and begins and end with her as an adult; the film is based on a graphic novel by Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi, and tells the tale of her growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978.

This film is available on DVD, and was released last winter in limited theatres across America, nominated for various foreign film awards.

The film begins with Marjane as a ten year old girl, learning life lessons from her grandmother, and trying to have as much fun as an Iranian girl can have under the regime of the Shah. While she grows up and has the typical teenage angst years, the background of what’s going on in her country is not only riveting, but it’s also understated in a way that doesn’t beat you over the head with how horrible it was for these people. It’s that subtle touch that makes this film somewhat powerful in a quiet way. Much like Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” did with the Holocaust (a graphic novel that depicts Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and the Polish as pigs), its simplicity is where its brilliance lies. Obviously, Marjane struggles to cope with not only being a teenager, but also having to worry about whether she’s not seen holding hands with a boy, or has her scarf not entirely covering her hair. There’s also a scene in which she’s running to class because she’s late, and two armed guards tell her that her backside is swaying in an “obscene” way to which she replies, “Then stop staring at it!” (paraphrased)

There are some very funny moments in this film, as well as some very poignant ones. But the film is not dragged out (it clocks in at 95 minutes) and it’s not oppressive in its message about independence and identity in a land where that was taken away. I like that the story illustrates that the revolution was just as bad for the country as the Shah’s regime was, and tells it “like it is” rather than trying to paint with an agenda, or bias.

Meanwhile, for Marjane, life is difficult in a very predictable way for adolescents. She falls in love with the wrong guys, she lives in various European countries to escape the tyranny of Tehran, and finds herself in various precarious situations (a rave party that leaves one of her friends dead). What I love about the story is how much Marjane realizes that she lived a very predictable life in a very unpredictable time, and was just as self-absorbed, aloof, and immature as any kid growing up during any period. Just because you’re involved with an historic revolution doesn’t automatically make you vastly more interesting or more learned than someone who hasn’t.

And that’s why this little French film was such an enchanting one. It teaches you a little bit about a period of time in a country and culture that we fear and hardly understand, and yet you feel as close to this girl as you possibly can, and get as close as possible to empathizing with her situation. It’s rare that a story can pull this off without it being over the top, and perhaps that’s helped by it being animated. It’s as if it gives you the key to understanding exactly where she was coming from: real life feels so surreal.

My rating: :smile: