Persepolis - Nothing As It Seems

Posted by Miss Ess, May 14, 2010 12:34pm | Post a Comment
Persepolis is the most affecting animated picture I've ever seen. (Yeah, it beats Bambi.)

It's about the life of a young woman (and co-director and writer of the film), Marjane Satrapi, growing up in Iran during the revolution, and about the price one must pay for freedom. Sure, it does what it sets out to do and what is generically expected of a film of this subject matter, showing the (presumably Western) viewer that at the core the divide between our lives and that of those living in Iran isn't as great as it's perceived to be, and that we all crave the same basic things, but it does this in a genuinely innovative and moving way.

Persepolis takes a disorienting, complex event in history and makes it personal. The deaths, explosions, loss of dignity, loss of basic human rights -- we see each of these happen individually to members of Marjane's family, her friends, herself, and through that, both the impact and understanding of what happened is heightened.

It's a serious topic, but the filmmakers allow for the inclusion humor and lightness often as well, especially around the universal adolescent experience of rebellion. Despite the Western cultural ban in Iran, Marjane writes "Punk is not ded [sic]" on the back of her jacket and buys contraband Iron Maiden tapes, picking up her tennis racket and headbanging around her room. 

The animated format packs a great and specific amount of detail into each frame, and also allows for an at times realistic and at times fantastical graphic focus on both Marjane's real life and what she imagines (chats with god and Bruce Lee-esque martial arts skills!). Using drawings instead of real shots enables Persepolis' creators to take a scary, overwhelming time and make it less difficult to watch as well as bring in a touch of whimsy where appropriate -- from simply a hand peeking out from rubble after a missile launch to jasmine flowers floating across the screen via Marjane's grandma's bra (yup).

Though her home country discourages it, Marjane has spunk and talks back when she feels she's been mistreated, and this, like the rest of the film, and to Persepolis' great credit, always feels perfectly authentic. Her grandmother and mother teach her to be a strong young woman of integrity, despite the limitations and obstacles that surround her. They want Marjane to have a freedom they once knew in their younger lives, the freedom to truly be herself. This kind of life is no longer possible in the Iran they are living in. Watching the pain of a family realizing their daughter will not have it better than they did unless she leaves is extremely poignant.

All this said, the film is not heavy handed whatsoever. I never felt like it was hitting me over the head with a carefully packaged "message" about human rights or world peace or anything like that. It was no Miss America pageant. Instead, Persepolis feels like an honest portrayal of a life, a life that just happens to include chaos, war and major sacrifice. It definitely made me think about the lines that separate the Western World from the Muslim World and the great cost of keeping those hard lines drawn.

Relevant Tags

Marjane Satrapi (1), Persepolis (1), 2000s (40)