Dir. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent ParronoudPremiered at Cannes May 23, 2007
I live in California, and here is a large community of Persians, Armenians, and Jews who fled the 1979 Iranian Revolution. They’ve been my neighbors, colleagues, and even one of my favorite comedians. But overall, my impression of the Revolution is informed almost entirely by those who got away.
While politics isn’t absent from Persepolis, it’s not really a political film. In the late 1970s, young Marjane Satrapi witnesses the downfall of the Shah of Iran. Inspired by the stories of her Communist uncle, she eagerly awaits a new era of freedom in her country. Instead, things get worse. The Islamic Republic is established, opposed to both eastern and western blocs. Political repression intensifies, and her uncle is executed. Friends and family die as the country enters eight years of brutal war with Iraq. Western products disappear off shelves and into the black market. And the establishment that once venerated the Shah now venerates the Ayatollah.
Too free-spirited to live in such a condition, Satrapi is sent by her parents to Europe, but she is treated like a stranger and does not enjoy the compassion she did in her home country. However, returning home is no easier. Though the war is over, the country seems to be in a state of permanent revolution, and she must decide whether to stay and try to make the best of the situation, and leave without the possibility of returning.
By eschewing an agenda, Persepolis manages to be far more enlightening and persuasive than any other depiction of this time and place I’ve seen so far. The animation is cute, but still delightfully expressionistic and able to convey a universe of emotions. What’s more, it neither demonizes nor venerates Satrapi’s choices; they are merely part of life, and there are often no good answers.
Signs This Was Made in 2007
Nothing particular comes to mind, though Satrapi’s drawing style is very reminiscent of more recent animated fare. Perhaps there was some influence there.
Warning: this film contains visual depictions of the godhead.
How Did It Do?
Persepolis grossed $22.8 million against a $7.3 million budget, and received a glowing 96% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes. France chose the film as its submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film; it wasn’t nominated for that, but it did get a nomination for Best Animated Feature, the only traditionally-animated film to be so recognized.
I might be the only person who thinks the movie is somewhat overrated, but reading a lot of the reviews, a lot of the praise seems to be based in the film’s politics, or the novelty of using animation to depict and discuss serious topics like this. This novelty would be short-lived, to the point that traditional animation started to be seen as inherently artsy.
Persepolis has proven surprisingly controversial since its release. The Iranian government, fresh off their overserious condemnation of Zack Snyder’s 300, condemned the film as counterrevolutionary, prompting a heavily censored release in the country and short-lived ban in its ally Lebanon. That was to be expected. What was not expected was for the Iranian government to pressure the Bangkok Film Festival into dropping the film in June, for the head of a Tunisian TV channel that showed it to be arrested and convicted for broadcasting an anthropomorphic image of God (See? I wasn’t kidding!), or for a school district near Seattle to nearly ban the film and its source material for its frank depiction of female puberty, political violence, and profanity, one of many reminders at the time that my Catholic high school might as well have been Woodstock compared to most of its secular counterparts in the US.
Next Time: Ocean’s 13