Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi
Based on graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi
With top US, Israeli and French politicians threatening to obliterate Iran, and Iranians often being portrayed in the media as being a bunch of fanatical barbarians, this honest, charming and amusing animation is a pleasant antidote to all the nastiness. Ultimately, however, it fails to fully convince, and the second part drifts off into dangerous waters.
Persepolis (taking its name from the capital of the old Persian empire), is an animated version of Iranian exile Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels. It tells the story of Satrapi’s life, from her very early years as an innocent child with big ideas, up to her decision to become a writer in France as an adult.
The first hour of the film is sometimes joyful, sometimes sad, but always enthralling. Through playful Marjane’s young eyes we experience events such as the overthrow of the western backed Shah, and the war with neighbouring Iraq. Her family, who lived relatively comfortable lives, nevertheless risked everything by joining the Moscow-backed Communist Party. As the Shah’s regime was toppled, the Communists threw their weight behind the Islamicists, led by Ayatollah Khomeini. Sadly, this spelled the end for many of Marjane’s left-wing relatives and friends, as they were rounded up and either imprisoned or executed.
A traumatised but still rebellious Marjane could not live under the strict new regime (never has buying an Abba record seemed this daring), so her surviving family sent her away to Austria. There, she had some fun with the ‘underground’ scene, but found many people to be pretentious and empty. In fact the individualism of 1980s western society almost killed her, as she ended up nearly overdosing and choking to death.
However, it is at the point when Marjane returned to Iran that the film becomes much less absorbing. She found some solace in familiar faces, especially that of her grandmother, but with revolution not on the horizon, she retreated into herself. Whereas this is perfectly understandable, it doesn’t make for great cinema. After all, ‘what is the point of my life?’ has been done many times before. For Satrapi, the answer was Paris.
Towards the end, the film gets mired in excessive sentimentality, and leaves the current situation in Iran practically untouched. While Khomeini’s followers are still in power, there are massive divisions within the ruling elite, who are all deeply unpopular amongst the general public. None of this appears in Persepolis though, because it seems that Iranian politics since the late 1980s has passed Satrapi by. This creates a general impression of hopelessness that the people of Iran can change their way of life, and unintentionally feeds into the pro-war drive in the United States and elsewhere.
With the French government of Nicolas Sarkozy apparently signed up to supporting any new aggression against Iran, it is no surprise to see this film getting a lot of support from the French establishment.