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Dir: Marjane Satrapi

Patricia Ducey

ersepolis, adapted for the screen by Marjane Satrapi from her two graphic novels, is both an émigré memoir and a love song to Persepolis, the fabled ancient capital of Persia that lives now only in little Marji’s imagination. Persepolis is her coming of age story that criss-crosses continents and ideologies. Born in 1969 the daughter of educated, cultured Persian Marxists and granddaughter of a Persian emperor, a budding artist in her own right, how could she escape anything but a complicated life?

Satrapi collaborates with fellow graphic artist Vincent Paronnaud to produce the animated film, with the same comic book style black and white images that capture so vividly both the beauty and stark terror of her childhood in war-torn and oppressive Islamic Republic of Iran. But this film steers clear of overt politicizing, wisely opting for a much more universal story of one extended family and its devastation by the unfeeling, hydra-headed apparatus of totalitarianism. French icon Catherine Deneuve voices Marjane’s mother and her own daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, plays Marjane, both to great effect.

Marjane is only 10 at the time of the Islamic Revolution, and it is some time before she can comprehend her parents’ worried whisperings or the peril that lurks beyond the walls of their family home. For Marjane, always outspoken and sassy, the new regime quickly becomes impossible to countenance. After run-ins with the religious police over her heavy metal musical addiction and her feminist orations at school, her parents ship her off to Europe to complete high school. There another adventure awaits her: a headlong dive into freedom, anonymity, and eventually paralyzing loneliness. No one cares what music she listens to, but no one cares, period. Lonely for her parents and her homeland, she returns after graduation and eventually marries, mostly so she and her boyfriend can be in each other’s company without risking arrest on vice charges.

Her story is full of love and intelligence but little soppy sentimentality. On the one hand we can mourn the death of her wonderful grandmother, who took her to Godzilla movies and advised her on marriage problems, as much as she does. On the other, we can also understand how fear can puncture her most precious self-image and turn her, without a second thought, into a snitch.

Satrapi condenses a lot of story from her two novels for the sake of length here, and it feels, well, incomplete. Without spoiling the ending, I will just say it’s to me unsatisfactory. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the author is still only in her 20s; she still has much more to live and write.

You might miss a reference or two if you haven’t read the novel--like the two ‘gods’ she prays to as a child, God Himself as well as Karl Marx, both wise, white-bearded deities in her young eschatology. It’s impossible to say now which will win the battle for her soul, but I’m sure the journey will be interesting and well worth another Persepolis or two.

-- Patricia Ducey

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