Dirs. Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Screened: Saturday 10th November, 2007
This adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s comic books about growing up in Iran at the time of the Islamic Revolution is a truly original coming-of-age story. Staying true to Satrapi’s visual style, the film follows her through childhood, an awkward period in Europe and a return to Iran that forces her to reassess her identity.
The young Marjane is an instantly recognisable character – a precocious tomboy with a vivid imagination, aspiring to be Bruce Lee. In between playing with her friends and making grandiose plans for her future, she learns from her middle-class, politically active family about the Shah’s autocratic regime. The revolution and subsequent coming to power of the Islamic government further shape her childhood; even as she evades the the strictures of the authorities herself, her friends and relatives are threatened, and the Iran-Iraq war hangs like a constant shadow over the proceedings.
Her parents, fearing for Marjane’s safety, send her to study in Austria. I found this section of the narrative to be the weakest -none of the characters are fleshed out and the tone jumps from light-hearted to tragic too quickly. On her return to Iran, she attempts to settle down and live under the regime, facing its extreme constraints on thought and behaviour. However, her relationship with her free-spirited, vivacious grandmother convinces her to ask for more out of life, and she leaves once again, feeling deeply Iranian but knowing she cannot stay there.
The visual style is arresting, and kept me riveted to the screen, fascinated. All the characters are simply drawn but distinctive, and the action often segues into inventive fantasy sequences, with the Shah’s rise to power and the slaughter of the Iran-Iraq war conveyed (through a child’s imagination) as stylised puppet shows. Persepolis doesn’t back away from showing the cost of the Revolution – although there is no explicit violence, executions, exile and imprisonment are all shown. The characters aren’t amazingly detailed, and with the exception of Marjane herself and her grandmother, none of them really stand out. However, as a depiction of one person’s path into adulthood, the film is perceptive, poignant and beautiful.