Beat on the brat: Young Marjane Satrapi draws the ire of two Islamic fundamentalists in Persepolis.
Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Gabrielle Lopes, Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Simone Abkarian, Danielle Darrieux
It’s a good time to be a comic-book fan and movie lover.
There was a time when adapting comics for the big screen was seen as a form of dumpster-diving. But things have changed in bookstores and movie theaters alike; both are now in the firm, Galactus-like grip of comics (graphic novels, if you must). Of course, many of the more affecting adaptations (A History of Violence, Road to Perdition) hide their four-color heritage, and for every Ghost World, there’s a Ghost Rider, but ... OK, so it’s a best of times, worst of times kind of thing.
While the visual vocabulary of comics has been successfully translated in films like Sin City and 300, there’s always been something lacking in comics adaptations: real human feeling. (Let’s face it: Sin City has the emotional depth of a sheet of paper.)
However, Persepolis, adapted from Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir of the same name, is a stunning victory on all counts. The film is incredibly faithful to the novel’s narrative and tone (Satrapi co-wrote and co-directed the film with Vincent Parronaud), and the decision to animate Satrapi’s signature black-and-white line art is a masterstroke that lets us experience her view of Iran in a way that live-action couldn’t have.
Satrapi begins her story as a precocious, intelligent 9-year-old living with her progressive parents in Tehran. Convinced she will be a prophet (she fantasizes conversations with both God and Karl Marx), the young Satrapi is swept up by the romance of revolution while her country is in the midst of the real thing.
When the Shah’s dictatorship gives way to the fundamentalist Islamic Revolution — dashing her family’s hopes for a democratic government — the free-thinking Satrapi is suddenly forced to wear a head scarf and flog herself for “the martyrs.” The Iraq-Iran war further turns her family’s world upside-down, and as she enters pre-adolescence, Satrapi’s desire to express herself consistently threatens her safety. (On a journey to buy bootleg Iron Maiden cassettes, she narrowly escapes being detained for sporting a “PUNK IS NOT DED” jacket, complete with
Michael Jackson badge. “It’s Malcolm X,” she tells the irate women.) Fearful for their daughter’s life, her parents arrange for her to go to school in
Vienna. Satrapi’s journey into womanhood begins there, as she finds herself torn between her new, exciting Western life and the guilt of leaving her family behind.
Persepolis is full of gut-wrenching moments — Satrapi doesn’t shy away from the death and destruction she encountered virtually every day in Iran — but the most affecting scenes come between Satrapi and her family, fighting to live a normal life and struggling to say goodbye.
Satrapi’s love for her family, particularly her wise, independent grandmother, is palpable in every frame of this film.
Despite the backdrop of war and intolerance, Satrapi’s coming-of-age story is more personal than political — and ultimately, universal. Every triumph and every setback feels like our own, and by the end we know all we need to know about Iran and its people: They’re a lot like us.
Visually arresting, funny, harrowing, and always honest, Persepolis is undoubtedly among the aforementioned best of times. •