Persepolis directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
reviewed by Sarah Sachs-Eldridge
Based on a graphic novel memoir written by Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis is a treat. An animated film, it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, mainly, but not entirely, in black and white and very simply drawn. It is incredibly beautiful but also dips into a wide range of subject matter; revolution, counter-revolution, war, plus the life-changing events that are part of everyone’s adolescence. It is very much about both the political and the personal.
Having learned to love ‘god’s appointee’, the Shah, in school, the seven-year old Marjane is then confronted with the enormous events of the 1979 Iranian revolution. All is in flux as teachers instruct the pupils to tear out the picture of the Shah in their school books.
Later on, under the repressive regime of the mullahs, Marjane and her classmates are once again taught propaganda about the nature of the regime.
Despite being depicted in black and white, our protagonist is a well-rounded questioning and challenging character. She comes from a middle-class background but her family includes many communist activists.
The film deals with the political events of this period, showing briefly but graphically the enormous suffering of ordinary people as a result of the Iran-Iraq war, the role of US and UK imperialism, and the repression of the Shah and then the mullahs. It is a human story, not a political analysis, but as such it is an engaging introduction to Iran’s history.
Against a backdrop of the enormous social repercussions of war and repression, Marjane struggles to know how to deal with her personal issues. Spending some time in Europe, she faces racism and isolation. On her return to Iran she has to deal with trying to form relationships under the tyrannical eye of the regime.
A review of the film in Socialist Worker finishes by saying: “The film offers little in terms of a real understanding of Iranian society – an understanding that we so desperately need at a time when the image we get from the pro-war mass media is Iran as a brutal medieval theocracy. Unfortunately, Persepolis does nothing to dispel this myth.”
I found it hard to sympathise with this assessment when some of the sharpest points deal with the nature of growing up in such a society. With humour and horror the film depicts a young woman’s experience of growing up in Iran.
An art class attempts to discuss the merits of Botticelli’s Venus, with the nudes erased from the slide. Over and over again the female characters are chastened for their attire and conduct. A whole generation of political activists is killed.
This is not a school text book or a political documentary on the nature of the Iranian regime. It is a memoir of a young woman from a middle class background and should be judged as that.
Fundamentally it is a piece of art, and a very beautiful and impressive one at that, and one which raises questions and ideas without providing answers. If a fully rounded out analysis and programme is your criteria for enjoying art I imagine you will be sadly disappointed – on a regular basis!