A surprisingly universal coming-of-ager set to a backdrop that a good deal of people will probably never experience.
Persepolis is the autobiography of one Marjane Satrapi detailing her upbringing in the midst of the Iranian Revolution from her days a rebellious youth with a jones for Iron Maiden to her woeful teen years of hard-learned self-discovery while studying abroad/struggling to survive in Austria. Eventually, she returns home a young woman and is once again forced to face the harsh reality of life under a tyrannical and corrupt regime that punishes sexuality and political activism with an firing squad.
Yeah, I didn’t know a damn thing about the Iranian Revolution going into this. Kudos to Satrapi for doing her best to break it all down so that a half-brained chimp like myself could understand it, but as with most cultural conflicts, the root of the issue isn’t exactly a cut-and-dry thing. All the same, the upside is that this is as much about Iran as it is about Satrapi’s wonderfully told life story that’s as hilarious and vibrant as it is tragic and unfortunate.
As a child, as a teen, and as a woman, Marjane Satrapi is freaking awesome. This is a gal who knows how to tell a story, and even if her whole life boiled down to freeloading on her parents’ La-Z-Boy, eating Doritos by the truck load and watching re-runs of The Price is Right, something tells me she’d still make it pretty damn captivating. As a narrator, she’s brilliant, and as a character, she makes the movie.
From a behavioral standpoint, Marjane changes a lot from age to age as she matures from pint-size freedom fighter to love-sick rebel; but when it comes to values, she’s a hunk of granite stuck in a culture where so many have gotten used to crumbling. She tells off cops when they tell her to cover up, she skips school to go buy heavy metal cassettes off the black market, she refuses to accept the place in society that everyone wants her to fit into, and that’s why she rocks. You might even call her a borderline badass. But aside from her beliefs and aside from her surroundings, she’s still your average girl trying to figure out exactly where her place in society is and that’s what makes her so relatable.
Despite the differences in worlds that she and I were brought up in, it’s wonderful how the most fascinating aspects of Marjane’s life are the ones that I felt like everyone goes through when they’re growing up. She battles depression, she gets back on her feet, she makes friends, she realizes they’re nothing like her, she falls in love, she gets her heart broken, she falls in love again, rinse, wash, repeat, and it’s amazing she somehow managed to capture all the highs and lows of figuring ourselves out in one pretty little nutshell. And that’s ’cause she’s honest. She doesn’t hide her mistakes and her highs are as invigorating as her lows are devastating, but whether there are bombs being dropped all around us or deer frolicking in the backyard, we’ve all been there at some point.
I mean, it’s hard to talk about this movie without just going off on Marjane because she is the movie. She’s the writer, she’s the director, she’s the artist, she’s the protagonist, and every last road leads back to her. But every compliment I can direct towards Marjane can just as much be said about her family. They’re the voices of wisdom, they’re the constants in her life and they’re as vital to who she is as the experiences she faces. Just some fantastic people who are wise beyond their years, people everyone could use in their lives.
But back to the art. What the animation lacks in color and detailed realism, simply gawking at still frames doesn’t do it justice. I was skeptical at first, but the animation here is more expressive, original and full of life than anything Pixar or Disney have put out since Toy Story. The black-and-white looks great for any mood that it tries to create, and even though it might not be all too impressive without seeing it action, it’s hard to forget such stark simplicity when everyone else seems to be reaching for the next big technical upgrade. Love it when folks take one step back to take two steps forward. So rare these days.
Now, I’ve never read the graphic novels this is based off of (they’re on my list), so with the whole war setting going for it, I thought this was going to be something along the lines of Maus. And while the end result is is entirely different from what I had initially imagined, I’m not disappointed in the least, but rather pleasantly surprised with how much more I ended up getting. When I think of some of my favorite autobiopics (should I trademark that word?), all the ones that come to mind are about men. Not sure why that is, but Marjane’s story really is up there with the best of them, and I can’t stop digging that. I love how up-front she is, I love how funny she is and it fucking rules to meet such a genuine, grounded, and awesome person such as herself.
From the foreign title to the vague poster to the deceptively simple animation, I can imagine this being a hard sell for some, but Persepolis really is something else. Just an expertly told story of a fascinating and familiar life from the last place I would think to find it. Right up there with Waltz with Bashir in terms of paving a new road for animated movies that excel in challenging, adult storytelling just as well, if not better, as a live-action movie can.