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Movie Review - Persepolis

FrenchDoc's picture

Woohoo!! My DVD arrived today!

Persepolis is the animated film by Marjane Satrapi, relating her coming of age in Iran, starting before the fall of the Shah regime to today.

The film is divided into several segments:

  • Marjane's childhood in Tehran before the fall of the Shah, in what seems a middle-class family; in that segment, there are a lot of hints at the political repression exercised by the Shah regime against students, left-wingers and any political opposition through the character, especially, of her uncle Anousch.

  • The end of her childhood at the time of the Revolution with the irony that the opponents to the Shah end up just as persecuted by the Ayatollahs. The women have wear the veil (nice jab at the stupid idea that a veiled woman is a free woman). Marjane sees her intelligent mother having to humiliate herself before a man just because her headscarf is not properly set. When her uncle Anousch is imprisoned, to be executed by the regime, he asks Marjane to come visit him at the prison for his only allowed visit. This is something that will mark Marjane and make her realize the brutality of the regime.

  • The Vienna years: Because of the war with Iraq, Marjane's parents send her to the French Lycee in Vienna. There, she faces culture shock and homesickness, along with her first lousy love affairs, homelessness and a defeated return home.

  • Back to Tehran, the war is over but the situation is even worse than before she left in terms of political repression. Little vignettes show us the daily indignities that women have to endure at the hands of the Guardian of the Revolution. After a bout with depression, as she feels a stranger everywhere, Marjane pulls herself together and becomes an art student, gets married, gets divorced, then moved to Paris.

Don't be fooled, this is a film where deep and dark reality of political oppression alternates with hilarious moments (and I mean, donkey-braying moments of hilarity). It's even more funny if you understand French. My favorite funny moments:

  • Countless childhood moments
  • Marjane and her anarchist friends in Vienna
  • Marjane's body matures
  • Marjane reconsiders her newly broken up love affair
  • Marjane draws her art teacher at the university as he analyzes a VERY censored version of the Birth of Venus

The voices are wonderfully done by three generations of incredible actresses: the legendary Danielle Darrieux is the grandmother (her swearing is considerably euphemized in the subtitles), the great Catherine Deneuve lends her voice to Marjane's mother, and Catherine Deneuve's daughter, Chiara Mastroianni (her father was the great Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni) lends her voice to the adolescent and adult Marjane.

This is first and foremost of women's story and a feminist film. We can use more of these, these days.

The movie also does a great job at humanizing the Iranians for us. And we can certainly use more of that too. Iran is not one big monolith of Muslim evilness. We should never reduce the country to the regime governing it. In the film, mostly, people try to survive, avoid the state apparatus of repression, from whomever it comes from, the Shah or the Ayatollahs. Women have to constantly make the calculus of dignity or survival, a pretty crappy deal. More than everything else, they try to be happy. They try to outsmart the regimes by having parties where political tensions can be left behind.

I know exactly ZERO about animation but I thought it was incredibly engaging here. It is mostly in black and white, with all shades of grey. There are touches of colors at certain points (no spoiling from me, you'll have to figure out their significance on your own). The drawing seems simple but the characters are very expressive and black, grey and white seems enough to give substance to everything, especially, the urban landscapes of Tehran and Vienna.

My only disagreement? ABBA is NOT for wimps, they still rock, dammit!

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leah's picture
Submitted by leah on

I'm always happy to run into adults who enjoy animation, and Persepolis is nothing less than wonderful. I hadn't realized it was out on DVD yet, can't wait to see it again. I still feel the need to explain my adult interest by noting that my father was an animator. On the other hand, I think that some of the most innovative filmmaking going on around the world is in animation.

In fact, although I usually couldn't care less who gets which Academy Award, I was genuinely torn when Persepolis was up against Ratatouille, which I also considered a masterpiece; both films deserved it, despite their differences, but I finally decided this amazing woman writer/animator from Iran, talk about the unexpected, needed the recognition. I actually watched the awards, my fingers crossed for her.

Didn't happen, but I can tell you that Hollywood folk who care about animation loved Persepolis.

I feel no need to add any comments of my own to your review.

There is clearly an appetite among a significant subset of Americans to understand more about Iran, given the popularity of both Satrapi's graphic novel and the film, and for another instance, the amazing success of "Reading Lolita in Tehran." For those of you who don't know much about the book, here's a wonderful review by Mona Simpson, a splendid novelist herself, that was published at Powell's website.

Finally, if any of you are interested in why Danielle Darrieux deserves the description of "legendary," you can rent a DVD of "The Earrings of Madame D," which she starred in with Charles Boyer and Vittorio DiSica, the great Italian neo-realist filmmaker, who was also a wonderful actor. It's a film by the incredibly great Max Ophuls; the film might be a bit drawing-roomish for some tastes, but for anyone who loves great acting, and incandescent filmmaking, this is a don't-miss. Oh, it's in French with sub-titles.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

behind closed doors they're like us in so many ways--especially the young. And there's that whole stereotype of women in chadors in public and only designer clothes and impeccable hair and makeup, etc, in private....

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

Iran: Religion and Love (on Valentine's Day, no less) --

"... Ava's teenage years came during Iran's era of reform, between 1997 and 2005. For her and many of her generation -- the "third generation" -- life turned out to be a lot more about the Internet, satellite TV, fashion and pop music. The freedom and democracy practiced in the West may be out of reach in Iran, but Ava had no qualms about embracing its superficialities. With her trimmed eyebrows, redone nose and fashionable clothes, Ava and dozens like her in Mohseni Square tonight have adopted individualism, consumerism and Western culture as their most cherished and inalienable human right. They wear it like a visible manifesto. I asked Ava if she would be celebrating Valentine's Day this year. Of course, she told me, it's like an epidemic. ..."