When Marjane Satrapi was a young girl in Iran, there were two things she most looked forward to: shaving her legs, and becoming the last prophet in the galaxy. Now, she can add winning an Oscar to her list.
Her film, “Persepolis,” based on her autobiographical graphic novel series, is nominated for best animated feature this year. Persepolis is also the name of the ancient capital of the Persian Empire. Co-written and directed with Vincent Paronnaud, “Persepolis” has gained critical acclaim and awards both nation and worldwide.
Despite being an animated foreign film, (I thought I would have trouble finding someone to accompany me to the theater), it is never tedious or boring. In fact, the black and white backdrop is dynamic and fun, the dialogue witty and emotional, and the score is perfectly fitting for this incredibly engaging film.
The film opens and closes in the same place, a Parisian airport. This is set apart from the rest of the film, as it is in color, and takes place in the present. The rest is Satrapi’s recollection of her comical, yet bumpy road to self discovery and acceptance.
The audience follows young “Marji,” as her family calls her, trying to find herself amidst the chaotic Islamic Revolution in Iran, isolation in Austria and her return home after a bloody war is presumed over.
It is apparent from the start that Marji is a free spirit. Her hero is Bruce Lee, she first listens to the Bee Gees, then Iron Maiden, wears adidas sneakers, and questions the proposed ideals of the Islamic Republic.
After listening to her parents’ revolutionary conversations, she plays torture games with her friends, ending in a good scold. She chats with God regularly before the two have a falling out, and Karl Marx makes an appearance as well.
Marji is sent away in her early teens, when the political situation in her country becomes too dangerous. In Austria, Marji’s merciless attempt to find herself leads to a series of failed relationships, depression and comical bitterness. When she returns home, she is shocked to find out there is a new war raging against Iraq.
This film serves as a brief history of Iran in a nice hour-and-35 minute package. Through the backdrop of death and destruction, it paints a historical setting of the rise and fall of the last Shah and the animosity between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s. “Persepolis” might inspire viewers to at least do a quick Wikipedia search on Iran, or enroll in a Middle Eastern studies class. It shows that Satrapi’s home country has a lush history, not limited to oil and volatile foreign policy.
The film reflects the dark yet humorous style of Satrapi’s graphic novels. The dreamlike and whimsical animation heightens the wrenchingly emotional drama and teary-eyed comedy of the film.
Similarly, the music sets the tone and what you should be feeling at a particular time or place. Its subtle nature is much appreciated and effective in evoking pain, anguish, and love.
The musical styles clash, just as the characters clash with the repressive government they live under.
It is an eclectic mix of Olivier Bernet’s soothing orchestral music, Iranian sounds, and American genres, all reflected in Marji’s many influences. The best musical moment in the film is an inspiring rendition of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” sung by Marji in her French-Iranian accent.
Marji’s attraction to punk music (she wears a “Punk Is Not Ded [sic]” jacket and attends her first concert in Austria) represents her inner and outer rebellion to the system she is forced to abide. In Europe, while she is away from the atrocities occurring in her country, she is able to liberate herself from the literal and figurative veil she must wear in Iran.
And now for the clich’eacute;d lessons this film teaches us: Marji maintains an admirable, honest relationship with her family, particularly her grandmother and uncle, who give her sound advice throughout the film. Through Marji, we realize that “growing up” is a long and painful process everyone lives through, but by maintaining an open mind and imagination, it is a goal that can eventually be accomplished.
After watching Marji mature into a beautiful and independent woman, the movie must come to an inevitable end. Upon hailing a taxi at the airport, it is clear that a new chapter in our heroine’s life is about to begin, one that the audience wishes it could keep living with her.