Persepolis

Coming-of-age in a suppressive animated world -- 3.5 stars

Directed by Marjane Satrapi. June 2007, France. PG-13: 96 min.
(Originally published in buzz magazine on 2/23/2008)

Based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novels, Persepolis is an animated film made in France (Satrapi’s adopted home) that offers Westerners the very unique experience of understanding life from the perspective of an Iranian growing up in the 70s and 80s. Marjane was born in 1969 to a Communist family who strove to break Iran free of the dictatorial reign of the shah. Power did change hands in the late 70s, but instead of ushering in a new era of free speech and civil liberty, Ayatollah Khomeini’s conservative regime ensured a difficult life for free thinkers.

Persepolis’s black-and-white animation goes places photographed film cannot. For example, I can’t think of an effective technique to show a character floating just above the clouds to heaven and meeting with God that wouldn’t remind me of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Yet in Satrapi’s vibrant two-dimensional world of pitch blacks, bright whites, and subtle grays, Marjane’s occasional trips to meet her maker during her dreams appear no less natural and believable than her encounters with the authorities, her conversations with nihilistic punksters during her stay in Vienna, and her run-ins with death and destruction in her own neighborhood during the Iraq-Iran War.

I haven’t seen many animated features in the past year, so I’m admittedly not much of an expert, but in an Oscar season when everyone’s clamoring for a film about a gourmet chef rat to win Best Animated Feature Film, Persepolis deserves a lot more buzz than it receives. Perhaps its unashamed Marxist bent prevents it from appealing to America as a whole. But its artistry is bold and memorable, and it comes at a time when our nation needs to realize that Iran is not one like minded mass of people who despise freedom.