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July 16, 2008

DVD REVIEW: Persepolis a Poignant Persian Tale


By Stephen Silver

The best animated movie released in 2007 was not a Disney kids classic, nor was it the latest bit of Pixar wizardry or a computer-generated knockoff by Fox or DreamWorks. No, all of those offerings were bested by a low-budget, hand-drawn, black-and-white tale about a little girl growing up in Iran, made in French with English subtitles.


That movie is Persepolis, recently released on DVD, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, and based on Satrapi’s own popular, autobiographical graphic novel about her childhood in Iran in the 1970s and ‘80s. Satrapi’s story is by various turns poignant, hilarious and heartbreaking, and her artistic rendering throughout is nothing short of beautiful. 


The film is rendered almost entirely in black-and-white – except for a handful of scenes in color – in the unique style of Satrapi’s books. It’s ultimately not about politics but family, humanity and personal identity.


The jury prize winner last year at Cannes and an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature this year, Persepolis makes it surprisingly easy to forget all of the reasons that Iran is in the news these days – though for the uninitiated, it provides a fascinating lesson into the history of the region.


Persepolis, which takes its name from Persia’s ancient capital, gets underway in 1978, in the last days of the Shah’s rule, when Satrapi is 10 years old and sits rapturous hearing stories about her family’s history. Her uncle, a communist, has been imprisoned by the regime, and the family hopes for the best from the new government. If you know anything about Iranian history, you can guess how that turned out.


The Khomeini regime proves considerably more repressive than its predecessor, imposing both religious theocracy and a general totalitarianism. But the characters find ways to cope, partying “underground” and finding other ways to have fun. In one great scene, Marjane buys heavy metal tapes from dark-clad men hiding from government agents.  


The movie follows Marjane and her family’s evolution, through the Iran-Iraq war, a stint for Marjane studying in Austria, and eventually her return. But more than geopolitics, Persepolis is about Marjane’s coming of age as a woman, as she negotiates love affairs, depression and establishment of an identity.


In a summer in which movies 180 degrees away from it fill the screens and warnings about war with Iran fill the headlines, that Persepolis was actually made, distributed and released in the U.S. is something for which we should all be pleasantly surprised, as well as grateful. It is a beautiful telling of a wonderful story that deserves to be seen far and wide.


Rating 4 stars (out of 4)


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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