Pros: Powerful, poigniant, thought provoking. Oscar nominated.
Cons: It should have won.
Persepolis (2007) Written and Directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
Listen. I don't like to preach, but here's some advice. You'll meet a lot of jerks in life. If they hurt you, remember it's because they're stupid. Don't react to their cruelty. There's nothing worse than bitterness and revenge. Keep your dignity and be true to yourself. -Marjane's Grandmother.
This is the story of Marjane Satrapi, and her country, Iran, and how they fell in and out of love with one another, and eventually grew apart. The Iran Marjane was born into was the Iran of the Shah; yes, the Shah was a dictator, and yes there were abuses, secret police, and torture, but no one thought when they over threw the government in 1978 that it would slide further away from democracy and freedom.
Marjane (Gabrielle Lopes Benites) is the only child of her parents (voiced by Catherine Deneuve and Sean Penn). She is a free spirit, much like her Grandmother (Gena Rowlands) and a deep thinker, much like her uncle Anouche (Iggy Pop). But with the regime change came the Ayatollah Khomeini, and ever more oppressive laws. Veils were required for all women. Drinking was outlawed. And Uncle Anouche was reimprisoned. And in prison, he died.
Marjane was spirited, and her parents knew that as she grew up, she would undoubtedly attract trouble. For her protection, they sent her to live with friends in Austria. Once in Vienna, the friend flaked, and Marjane found herself an emancipated teen in a foreign country, with a culture radically different from her own. She found a cliché of social rejects, punks and nihilist posers, but they were her friends. Housing ranged from a hostel run by Catholic Nuns (Marjane had already proven unwilling to endure religious oppression, to sofa surfing through acquaintances to living with a retired philosophy professor who was nutty as squirrel poo, and her equally weird dog. She read everything, studied hard, fell in love (gay) recovered, fell in love again (jerk) and ended up homeless. Hospitalized for bronchitis she called her parents, and asked to come home.
But you can't go home again. The Iran she left was not the one she returned to, nor was it the beloved Iran of her youth. Culture shock in the west had left her ostracized and alone, but coming home, she finds herself as much an outsider. And back in a scarf. And more set in her ways, less able to curb her tongue. Can she build a life for herself in Teheran? Or will she have to flee again?
This film is animated. It is done in black, and white, and infinite shades of grey, with guest appearances of colour when it fits the story line. The animation is simple, clean lined and direct, no more complicated than an Edgar Gorey, though perhaps a bit more accurate. This approach has several benefits; one, no actors are thrown under the bus for making a film the government might decide it doesn't like. Secondly, there are sequences that have dream or fantasy qualities to them, and the animation allows this to be illustrated without resorting to special effects. Third, it creates an almost "everyman" feel to it. We know this is about Iran, and the people of that region of the world, but the idealized forms make you realize it could just as easily apply to China or Amish Country. It is universal. And oddly being a cartoon humanizes her plight.
If the animation is stark and simple, the story is anything but, full of emotional undertones, and themes of identity, persecution, self worth, and oppression. It is a powerful story, and one that needs to be heard. It is far too easy to vilify anyone from that region of the world. It is good to be reminded that the majority of the people over there are suffering at the hands of the same jerks we hate so vehemently. Persepolis restores a human face to Iran.
This is entered into Elvisdo's Funny Pages Write Off.