Told with style and passion, Persepolis is one of the most unique, and moving, animated films ever made. Based on two critically acclaimed graphic novels by Iranian émigré Marjane Satrapi, the film, like the books, is a tale of revolution, war and teenage rebellion, told with nearly perfect amounts of humor, rue and horror.
Satrapi, who now lives in Paris, grew up in an upper-middle-class Tehran family, which had roots not only in royalty, but in left-wing political activism. An outspoken child, she came of age when the Islamic Revolution took over Iran, forcing women to wear the veil and cracking down on any form of political opposition.
Despite this, Satrapi still managed to fall for junk-metal bands like Iron Maiden, make googly eyes at male students, and challenge some of her teachers’ more ridiculous pronouncements. But that all changed with the Iraq-Iran War. One of Satrapi’s uncles was executed for his beliefs and the girl’s parents, fearful that her boldness would get her in trouble, sent her to school in Vienna.
In Europe, Satrapi matured from adolescence into womanhood, but often felt like a stranger in a strange land, and after several years returned to Iran. Although this meant putting on the veil again, Satrapi was willing to give it a try. But Satrapi eventually realized she could not live under the tyranny of the mullahs, and at age 24 left her homeland and settled in France.
It’s practically an epic tale, filled with almost every kind of emotion—from irony to terror—you can possibly imagine. Yet what really makes it work is not just Satrapi’s brutal honesty, but her simple, highly evocative drawing style. Working with top French animator Vincent Paronnaud, the author has created the motion picture equivalent of her black-and-white panels, which practically shimmer when projected onto the screen. This stark palette is particularly effective during sequences of war and brutality, but every scene is suffused with a highly original graphic sense. Persepolis simply doesn’t look like any other animated film you’ve ever seen before, and that’s all to the good.
Ultimately, Satrapi’s story is the best of all possible worlds: an intimate tale set against a broad historical canvas, told in an engaging artistic manner. Because of this, there is simply no reason why Persepolis couldn’t click with audiences of all tastes and ages. It is that universal, and that good.
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