The story of an ever-changing world, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is her collected memoirs creatively presented as an animated feature. Based on the writer-director’s graphic novel series of the same name, Persepolis the film outlines her colourful life experiences utilising a plain but oddly compelling visual style. As Persepolis traverses a broad geographic expanse we journey with Marjane through a highly personal search for identity in these politically and relationally unstable contexts.
Marjane comes from a socially and politically liberal family; members of which are variously hailed as heroes of the people and enemies of the state. During the course of her tale a number of her family end up imprisoned and even executed. As political power is changing hands Iran is thrown into the long and horrific war with Iraq seeing a highly conservative faction gain ascendance. Marjane’s parents decide it would be better for their daughter to flee to the relative sanity of Europe to continue her education and get free of the repression and violence that has come to roost in their homeland. Unfortunately for Marjane there is no escaping her ethnicity and all of her relationships in her new home Vienna are filtered, for better or worse (mostly worse), through this cultural lens. Majane soon realises that she will never quite blend in with her European classmates the way she so desperately desires. She is caught between trying to hide her origins to avoid racist attitudes and guilt from pretending to be other than she is. Finding herself ill and living on the streets she ironically ‘escapes’ back to her family in Iran.
Upon her return she tries to fit into modern life in Tehran, but eventually admits that she no longer truly belongs there either and the film ends where it begins with her in an airport in flux between between two places thereby physically mirroring her confused identity.
The animation style employed in Persepolis is an antidote to the oversaturated motion capture madness of productions like Robert Zemeckis’ recent adaptation of Beowulf (2007). In a very flat 2-D style, with minimal use of colour, animators Damien Barrau, Pascal Chevet and their team have created a picture that ably captures the tone of the story without distracting from its narrative power. Even though the filmmakers took no pains to create any visual realism I was surprised at how quickly I was drawn in, forgetting that I was watching an animated feature. At the same time it would be fair to say that the animators do manage to present a strong visual style utilising the contrast of black and white with odd dashes of red or blue reminiscent of the colour choices in Steven Spielberg’s early 90s holocaust film Schindler’s List.
For a Western audience Persepolis uncovers some of the mystery surrounding life in a country like Iran; internal socio-political complexities are evidenced as are the impact of Western political decisions (eg: United States support of the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq war) on contemporary middle-eastern perceptions of ‘the west’. Ultimately though, Satrapi’s film is not a hard hitting political statement but a highly intimate account an individual’s attempts to find a place in the world. Hopefully her attempts to express her struggle through her art have produced not only a very worthwhile film but also some much deserved peace of mind.
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: M – Suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over. Contains offensive language.
Director: Marjane Satrapi
Voice Actors: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux, Simon Abkarian, Gabrielle Lopes Benites, and François Jerosme.
Country: France | USA
Language: French | English | Persian | German (with English subtitles)
Dur: 96 min