Persepolis – The Film

Persepolis is an autobiographical French animated film. Released in the year 2007 and based on the graphic novel written by Marjane Satrapi, it is directed by the author and Vincent Paronnaud.
The film won awards for the ‘Best First Work’ and ‘Best Writing – Adaptation’ at the César Awards. ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at the São Paulo International Film Festival (2007), The ‘Rogers People’s Choice Award for Most Popular International Film’ at the Vancouver International Film Festival (2007), while tying for the  Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival (2007).
Marjane Satrapi (22 November 1969) is an Iranian woman who was brought up in Tehran during one of the most turbulent phases of its time. Her family was involved in the Communist and Socialist movements in Iran prior to the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
Marjane tells the tale of her people through her own story, a surprisingly comical account which bluntly drives home its message to the audience.
Her novels, which the movie is based on, tell the story of her childhood and adolescence, of growing up in Iran in the midst of political unrest, the growing suppression of civil liberties and the effects of Iranian politics on everyday life.
The Plot
The film begins with a colorful airport scene when a young woman – Marjane, arrives and stares at the schedule for a flight to Tehran. She dons her veil with a blank expression, while a Western woman watches disapprovingly from the corner of her eye, and she prepares herself for the return to her homeland. When asked for her ticket and passport, she seems dumbfounded, sighs and steps out of the line. She then sits down to smoke and reminisce – in black and white.
The Religious fanatics had come down heavily on the population of a previously open society, changing mindsets and making the oppression unbearable. The various incidents that Marjane witnesses as a young girl show how fundamentalism, when given a free rein over a population, causes free thinking to go down the drain and the daily life of any minutely progressive individual becomes a battle – not only to save themselves from persecution but also to keep their spirit of rebellion alive within them, to not forget who they really are.
The tale highlights the story of the people of Iran, who faced one major problem after the other. The double standards of the West, the corruption of the Shahs, the sheer bigotry of the religious fundamentalists who came into power and also the plight of women, who had to undergo a tacit kind of subjugation under the imposition of the veil. It even speaks about people feeling like misfits when they leave their own country in search of asylum. There were many teenagers like Marjane who were forced to leave the country without their parents so that they could at least get a chance to live normal lives. The movie highlights how the displacement creates a deep yearning to go back home, and also the fact that once such people return, they are strangers in their own country as well.
Through a series of memories playing through her head while smoking at the airport, Marjane unravels the trying story of her childhood and her transition to adulthood in the most non-conducive circumstances possible – especially for a girl.
After reflecting on the tribulations of the past, there is a return to the present airport scene in color. Marjane, lost in her thoughts, decides to abort her plan of return and gets into a taxi and leaves the airport. When the cabbie asks her where she’s from, she sighs heavily, ‘Iran’.
My Opinion

Marjane Satrapi uses animation to tell the story in a very effective manner. The simple lines are masterfully used to convey a plethora of emotions. A simple twitch of an eyebrow is used as a powerful narrative tool. Also, animation is useful when dealing with such delicate subjects. It is safer to use it than to use real actors. Also, it would have been very difficult for her to be able to shoot the parts that are in Iran. The use of caricature instead of real actors was essential for a movie dealing with such delicate issues related to religion, politics and society.
Interestingly, she names the story of modern Iran after the ancient capital of Persia with its great architectural monuments, called ‘Persepolis’ by the Greeks, which was captured, looted and destroyed by the Greeks who had come as invaders under Alexander. During the war with Iraq, modern Iran too had been bombed, its buildings had been razed and its people subjected to the tyranny of the fundamentalist leaders. Iran lost its original identity of a progressive Islamic country. It fell prey to the attacks of outsiders, including the cunning of the West and was converted into a completely different country. This, perhaps, is the parallel that Marjane Satrapi wished to draw when she named her story ‘Persepolis’.
The only negative aspect is that Marjane was lucky. She was from an upper middle class, progressive thinking family and, thus had the means to escape the fate of the masses of Iran. There is no representation of the other, more unfortunate sections of the population. The only other book available on the subject is ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ which again, has probably been written by a person belonging to the more intellectual, well-educated and privileged section of the Iranian population.
All in all, the honesty and humor with which Satrapi tells her story are captivating and the beautiful graphics hold the interest of the audience till the very last frame. It is definitely a movie that must not be missed.
Shraddha Suresh

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