Persepolis is a great accomplishment in filmmaking that truly showcases the power of animation. What could have been a serious drama about growing up in war-torn Iran, if portrayed in real action, instead becomes a delightful and comedic coming-of-age story told through the eyes of an exuberant animated character name Marjane. This film is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature this year…
(All pictures courtesy of Sony Classics)
Marjane Satrapi worked with fellow French illustrator to translate her autoiographical story from a best-selling series of graphic novels to the big screen, and with great success. The bold visual style of animation carried over from the books are what compelled me to see the film. The drawings are dramatic, simple yet whimsical, mostly in black, white and grey tones.
This original style plus the story's focus on the endearing and sweet-hearted main character combine to completely take the edge of the sometimes harsh subject matter. It is not your typical movie that deals with war, oppressive government or leaving home at a young age. It's not depressing, heavy or gritty. Actually, Persepolis is charming and laugh-out-loud funny at times. The storyline which floats off like the main character Marjane's imagination, depicts life's universal story – all the highs and lows, the importance of family and the impact of culture.
We see Marjane grow-up in Tehran a very happy young child, surrounded by her loving parents, intrigued by her politically active uncle, and in admiration of her strong sharp-tongued grandmother. But when the government changes hand life becomes harder on this family of intellectual free-thinkers. Many of their liberties are taken away – women must now wear headdresses; music, make-up and alcohol are contraband; and violence fills the streets. Yet somehow, this story does not feel foreign to us, it is completely accessible. In large part due to the animation and screenwriting we are able to identify and understand, we do not feel removed, in fact quite the opposite – we relate.
Persepolis shows Marjane at a young age imitating her idol Bruce Lee, karate-kicking all through the house. As a teen, she jams to Iron Maiden in her bedroom, although she had to buy these tapes off men in trench coats on the street. Later, Marjane leaves home, tries to find her place in the world, falls in love and endures a broken heart – all of those things which culminate and make us who we are.
It is in this way that the Persepolis defies cultural boundaries and becomes a completely accessible story of the human experience. Though the title may refer the the ancient capital of Persia, the story is universal. In the upcoming months Persepolis will be released in the english language with the help of actors Sean Penn, Iggy Pop and Gena Rowlands. Look for it in theatres around May.