February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Personal History Lesson

persepolis film
Marjane visits her uncle, a political prisoner.

Persepolis, the animated film version of Marjane Satrapi’s two-volume autobiographical comic book of the same name, brings the recent history of Iran to life by showing its effects on one individual – the smart, sparky Marjane – and her family.

Switching from color to black and white according to the mood of the scenes, the film takes us from Marjane’s privileged, happy-go-lucky childhood – shadowed by stories of relatives imprisoned, tortured and killed by the shah of Iran – to the ecstatic period after his overthrow, which Marjane’s left-wing relatives take as an assurance of a beautiful, just future for their country. Another grim reality soon imposes itself, however, with the new repression exercised by the Islamic regime and the start of the Iran-Iraq War.

Marjane is a little girl who just wants to have fun, but she also has the misguided high ideals and confused perceptions of a child. The film stays with her as she struggles with the insane contradictions her new life. We watch as she wanders past shady-looking men selling illicit goods until she finds what she wants: an Iron Maiden album. She is wearing a denim jacket on the back of which she has written in English “Punk is ded,” a look that doesn’t go down well with the morals police she is often in trouble with.

As she grows up and eventually goes into exile, first to Vienna as a teenager, and then to France, the weight of historical events and the personal tragedies ensuing from them break her spirit more than once, but Persepolis is proof that Marjane survived.

Co-written and co-directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, the film, which won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is by turns funny (Satrapi’s sense of humor is a saving grace, in both the film and her life), sickening, scary and heart-wrenching. For many Western viewers, I suspect it will offer a much-needed history lesson on Iran, a country many fear but know little about. The animation puts a slight distance between the spectator and the story, but perhaps that is necessary device in this extremely personal coming-of-age story.

For the French version, the first to be released, the voices of the main characters were provided by Chiara Mastroianni (Marjane), Catherine Deneuve (her mother), Simon Abkarian (her father) and Daniel Darrieux (her grandmother). The U.S. release date has not yet been set.

Heidi Ellison

© 2007 Paris Update

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