“Persepolis” shows the Islamic revolution in Iran and how everyday people and opponents of the regime the Shah is implementing, have to live.
“Persepolis” is an animated movie, which is portrayed mainly in black and white. It explores the story of Marjane Satrapi, a girl who lives in the capital of Iran, Tehran. The original film is in French, as it is directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud.
Photo: Maphill, 2011
Marjane, or Marji, was born and grew up in Iran herself, the book “Persepolis” on which the movie is based, is an autobiography written by her. This means that she experienced the Iranian Revolution first hand. She studied abroad because of the unhealthy living conditions in Iran. Marjane studied in Austria, Vienna, and spent her high-school years there. She returned to Iran after this, and studied visual communication there.
Vincent is a comic book writer and artist. He was born in La Rochelle, France. Vincent has made multiple animated movies under which: Territoire and Raging Blues.
The black, white and grey in “Persepolis” immediately conveys the grimness and seriousness of this film to the viewer. The backgrounds were not very detailed nor stuffed with building or any other object, apart from when Marji is walking around streets, which is necessary to also transition scenes and jump in time. This lets you focus on what is happening closest to the screen. It is also easier to portray more abstract scenes, to show the feelings or living conditions of a character better.
The film is not solely in black, white and grey however. The colour is only used in the present, so not in any of her memories. Because of this you can easily distinct between what is a memory and what is not.
The facial expressions and body language etc. were done in a way that was believable, as you would expect in many animated movies but it is worth pointing out. Because of this, I can come to the conclusion that the film makers used the animation aspect of “Persepolis” well.
The movie start with Marji sitting at an airport. She thinks of back when she was younger. As a child, Marji dreamt of becoming a prophet and wants to be like Bruce Lee.
She gets confronted with the previously mentioned Islamic revolution in Iran. People are rising up against the Shah. Marji’s family takes a part in this themselves.
As her family opposes the Shah, they have to be very careful. For example, Marji gets confronted by police officers telling her, her clothing is not appropriate. At that time people were imprisoned and even tortured by the government; a totalitarian regime. A different example is her uncle, who gets executed because of his beliefs. The last and only person that was allowed to talk to Marji’s uncle was Marji herself.
God also makes an appearance in Persepolis. He teaches Marji about forgiveness, and how you can not be the judge of people yourself.
One day Marji’s Uncle (Anoush) arrives to have dinner with the family and catch up with them after recently being released from prison. Anoush tells Marji about himself. How he is on the run from the government for rebelling with his Communist ideology. Anoush also speaks of his time spent in prison. He wants to warn Marji of the consequences of standing up to the Shah, but in a subtle way as Marji is a child.
There are elections. The Islamic Fundamentalists win. Marji’s family is disappointed. This will turn Iran into a totalitarian country. The country leaders will make new religious, totalitarian laws, like obligating women to cover themselves up (using a Hijab). Marji stands with her family.
Then a war breaks out between Iran and Iraq. This results into bombing and more horrific occurrences that you can expect in a war. Marji witnesses her dad being threatened by government officials wielding machine guns. These government officials are teenagers. Then she watches her ill uncle die because the hospital didn’t let him seek better treatment outside Iran.
As she grows up, Marji refuses to stay out of trouble, secretly buying Western heavy metal music on the black market, wearing unorthodox clothing and celebrating punk rock and other Western music sensations like Michael.
Then Marji’s parents decide to send her to a school in Vienna, Austria, because they don’t want her to get arrested. She arrives at a Christian boarding school. The nuns in there are discriminatory and judgemental, which reminds the viewer of the situation Iran. After going from place to place seeking residence, she is driven into homelessness where she nearly dies of bronchitis before she is rescued off the streets. Marji eventually recovers and returns to Iran with her family’s permission and hopes that the conclusion of the war would mean an improved life there.
After a while, Marji falls into a clinical depression over the state of affairs in Iran and the misery that has nearly ruined her family. In a dream, God and the spirit of Karl Marx appear before her to remind her of what is important and encourage her to go on with living. She bounces back with renewed determination and begins enjoying life again. She attends university classes, goes to parties and even enters a relationship with a fellow student.
On the other hand, Marji also discovers that Iranian society is more tyrannized than ever with numerous atrocities occurring. Mass executions for political beliefs and petty religious absurdities and hypocrisies have become common in everyday life. Marji keeps her rebellious attitude anyway.
She openly confronts the blatant sexist double standard in her university’s forum on public morality that singles out women and tells off policemen who warn her for running to class because her “behind makes obscene gestures”.
Her grandmother reminds Marji that both her grandfather and her uncle both died supporting freedom and innocent people. She should never forsake them or her family by giving in to the repressive government of Iran.
Eventually her marriage falls apart. And a little later, when a party is raided by the police which results in a friend being killed, Marji’s family decides that she must leave the country again, and permanently this time. In order to avoid being targeted by the authorities. Marji agrees. Her grandmother dies soon after her departure.
Back to present day, at the airport, Marji is unable to return to Iran again, and she takes a taxi from the airport. Her final memory is of her grandmother telling her how she placed jasmine in her brassiere to allow her to smell lovely every day.
Even though this story paints a grim picture, there is also comedy in this movie. Some scenes were not realistic and therefore comical and other scenes were comical because of the setting or script.
I enjoyed the movie, while still getting the ‘heavy’ message. Because of this I think this was a good movie. It is enjoyable while still conveying its message.