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France 2008
Directed by
Vincent Paronnaud / Marjane Satrapi
102 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Based on the autobiographical graphic novels of Marjane Satrapi, this is the coming-of-age story of Marjane, born in Iran during the reign of the Shah, daughter of a middle-class couple with revolutionary relatives. After the Shah is overthrown and the Ayatollahs come to power she is sent overseas to keep her safe but returns to find Iran a changed place.

A remarkable story told in a remarkable way, Persepolis takes the possibilities of animation into territory not often explored. The film begins during the reign of the Shah, with Marjane a young and naïve girl. She has two things she knows in life. One is that Bruce Lee is the greatest, and the second is that she is destined to be a renowned prophet. God himself has told her that (and the animations as she talks with God are quite touching.) Her innocence ends with the fall of the Shah, as her parents begin to explain to her all the terrible things that went on around her. Like any young child, she thinks she knows how to deal with this, and promptly leads her friends in an attack on another kid whose father was in the secret police. It’s a very honest and familiar portrait of childhood, but just as hope is finally in the air, it goes from bad to worse as members of her family are arrested and executed by the new religious authorities. Repression becomes more extreme, social gatherings exist only in secret and even having the wrong kind of boyfriend is something you could be arrested and shot for. But despite the horrors of both the Shah and the Ayatollah’s regimes, both Marjane and her family manage to hold on to themselves and not only survive, but remain decent people.

The animation is simple, but full of expression. The emotion showed demonstrates the quality of the animators, as they’ve captured the body language of joy and grief perfectly. And the filmmakers exploit the possibilities, especially as Marjane describes puberty, her body changing and distorting like a Picasso painting before finally settling down.

But best of all, there’s the character of Marjane’s Grandmother (voiced by Catherine Deneuve) who is an amazing woman. Independent and wise, she’s unafraid to scold and to counsel whenever one or the other is required. Her wisdom is a both a godsend and a damnation to Marjane. She’s a wonderful person and gets all the best lines of the film. Especially her advice after Marjane’s divorce: “The first marriage is practice for the next one.”

Both a history lesson on how Iran came to be the place it is today, and a touching story about a family struggling to cope in the face of repression, Perespolis is a wonderful film about the struggles some people must face. As Marjane’s grandmother says: “Fear lulls our minds to sleep”. Marjane’s story is one of someone learning to be unafraid and be herself, which is all the more impressive given that she is doing it in a place where conformity would be the far safer option.




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