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Today’s Iran Is Not For You

November 19th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Logging in to Netflix Instant for a movie to watch is like being hungry and shown to a food replicator. It doesn’t solve my problem — it introduces one thousand new ones. Luckily, I can see which genres are rated higher in nutritional content, in this case, 4 or 4 ½ star ratings out of 5 stars. “Documentary” had a lot of those. So did “Anime & Animation”. In the month of November, I take another trip around the globe to sample recent animated feature films. Next stop: Paris, France.

Persépolis (2007)
Directed by Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud
Screenplay by Vincent Paronnaud, based on the graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi
Produced by Marc-Antoine Robert, Xavier Rigault
96 minutes

Instead of racing on the cutting edge of technology, Persépolis looks backwards for its inspiration and proves as potent as anything requiring 3-D goggles to enjoy. Chronicling her coming of age during the Islamic Revolution, Paris based cartoonist Marjane Satrapi saw her graphic novel Persépolis published to critical acclaim in 2000. Marc-Antoine Robert of upstart French production company 2.4.7. Films convinced Satrapi that her story should be adapted into an animated feature film. To co-write a script and co-direct, Satrapi contacted her friend Vincent Paronnaud, a comic book artist and filmmaker. So uncomfortable with tech that Satrapi & Paronnaud wrote their script in pencil, financiers in France, Germany and the U.K. responded to the project and co-financed a budget of roughly $8 million. An animation unit of one hundred went to work at a studio in the Tenth District of Paris.

Persépolis would share the Grand Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Film. Pulling back a curtain to reveal to Western audiences the darkness of 20th century Iran, the strength of the film is its hand drawn charm, which pokes and prods the imagination in ways a live action melodrama of this material never could. Instead of feeling familiar, this story of innocence and uncertainty, family ties and loss, is never at a loss to enthrall. The simplicity Satrapi & Paronnaud bring to a story that is anything but black & white is remarkable, while the wit and visual panache of the cartoonists proves a perfect compliment to film. Once Catherine Deneuve was cast as the mother, the actress’s then 33-year-old daughter Chiara Mastroianni lobbied to play the voice of Marjane.

Arriving at Paris-Orly Airport, 22-year-old Marjane Satrapi (Chiara Mastroianni) handles a severe case of culture shock by lighting a cigarette and reminiscing on her childhood in Tehran. As a child in 1978, “Marji” (Gabrielle Lopes Benites) obsesses over French fries with ketchup, Bruce Lee and Adidas sneakers. Her educated parents (Catherine Deneuve, Simon Abkarian) embrace the revolution that sweeps away the brutal regime of the Shah. Her beloved uncle Abouche (François Jerosme) — a Marxist-Leninist who spent nine years in prison — gains his freedom and predicts that justice will flourish in their country at long last. But when the new Islamic order begins to purge the country of dissidents, Abouche is taken into custody and executed. By 1982, Marji is matching his defiance, mocking the nationalistic rhetoric of her teachers and buying a contraband Iron Maiden tape on the black market.

Through air raids inflicted by Saddam Hussein and domestic crackdowns by the Guard Corps, Marji remains close to her grandmother (Danielle Darrieux), who tries to instill integrity in her granddaughter through uncertain times. Marji’s parents make the decision to send her to school in Vienna. She is accepted by a small group of punk teenagers fascinated by her tales of revolution, but Marji rebels against her Catholic benefactors as instinctively as she did her Islamic teachers. Longing for Iran, Marji returns home, where the streets have been renamed after war martyrs and her father admits times are more brutal than ever. Nearly succumbing to depression, Marji rededicates herself to school and even falls in love. Agreeing to a marriage of convenience at the age of 21, Marji believes she has life almost figured out.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 23,619 users: 92% for Persépolis

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 90 for Persépolis

What do you say?

Tags: Animation · Based on comic strip · Coming of age · Crooked officer · Dreams and visions · Father/daughter relationship · Grandmother/granddaughter relationship · High school · Interrogation · Mother/daughter relationship

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 kelsy // Nov 19, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    I love both the film and the graphic novel. Marjane Satrapi’s story is so honest and funny and absolutely charming, and it managed to teach history without being obnoxious about it.

  • 2 Nayana Anthony // Nov 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Great review! I absolutely loved Persepolis. It gets an easy A from me. It holds up to multiple viewings, too, which is always a good indicator of quality.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Nov 19, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Kelsy: I agree with every word in your comment. Satrapi’s sense of humor is key to the film (and I imagine her graphic novels) being so successful. If anyone has a right to remain bitter after what happened to their family in Iran, it would be her. Instead, she must have heeded her grandmother’s advice. Thanks for commenting!

    Nayana: If I had to draw one negative aspect about Persépolis it’s that Satrapi had to go to Paris to publish books or co-direct a movie. Cultural self-reflection in popular art seems years away from being encouraged in the Muslim world. Undeniably a beautiful film though. Thanks for your compliment!

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