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Persepolis

Director Marjane Satrapi animates her memories of growing up in Iran

By Patricia Ingold

Persepolis
France: French with subtitles
Directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, starring the voices of Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni and Danielle Darrieux.
(2.4.7. Films)


Growing up is hard enough, but try coming of age in the shadow of an oppressive government. Persepolis is director Marjane Satrapi’s childhood memoir of life in Iran during the rule of the Shah and later the Islamic Republic. Based on Satrapi’s own graphic novels, this engrossing animated film for adults communicates in stark black-and-white images, illustrating her life story with powerful silhouettes of war, execution and political unrest.

The sassy young Marjane lives with her parents and grandmother in Tehran, and counts Bruce Lee and Che Guevara among her heroes. God, whom she later rejects in favour of Karl Marx, occasionally visits her at bedtime. Her attentive parents are politically active, but having endured the imprisonment of two family members, their primary concern is to keep Marjane safe. The Satrapi family’s hopes for a freer society are crushed when the Islamic Republic proves to be more oppressive than the Shah’s previous regime. As she grows older, Marjane resents the headscarf required for females, challenges her teachers and has so many close calls with Islamic authorities that her parents send her to safety in Vienna.

But here’s where the politics don’t really matter. Aside from its depiction of a loving family and smart observations about adolescence, Persepolis explores the role of cultural identity in the universal quest for happiness. Marjane is free in Vienna, but she bears a different kind of oppression in the denial of her Iranian heritage. It leaves painful psychological scars.

That’s not to say Persepolis is humourless — far from it. Wise Grandma has many fine moments, but her reaction to the 1950s horror film Godzilla is her funniest. And whether she’s buying illegal ABBA cassettes on the street or pouring forbidden beverages down the toilet, Marjane is a total charmer. Persepolis will speak volumes to those who share Satrapi’s history, but there’s plenty for the rest of us to appreciate. Brave Marjane is the rebel and the misfit in us all.


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