This animated biopic set in 1980s Iran succeeds on every level, writes Michael Dwyer PERSEPOLIS Directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. Voice cast: Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Gena Rowlands, Sean Penn, Iggy Pop, Amethyste Frezignac
12A cert, Cineworld, IFI, Dublin, 96 min A POPULAR prize-winner at Cannes last summer, Persepolis is quite unlike any other animated feature film. It ambitiously operates on multiple levels, switching seamlessly between them and sometimes overlapping, and succeeds on all of them – as a touching coming-of-age tale, a pointed political satire and a feminist fable, as a serious-minded drama and an uproariously funny comedy.
It is a deeply personal film for Marjane Satrapi, who wrote and directed it with illustrator Vincent Paronnaud, and imbued it with her feisty personality. The imaginatively structured screenplay is based on Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novels about a precocious young girl named Marjane, growing up in Iran from the downfall of the Shah in 1978 through the radical transformation of the country after the Islamic Revolution.
Marjane is introduced as an adult arriving at Orly airport in Paris, before the movie flashbacks through her eventful life, beginning in Tehran when she is seven years old (and voiced by Amethyste Frezignac). An only child, she is raised by middle-class liberal parents (Catherine Deneuve and Sean Penn), and Marjane inherits the
rebellious nature of her grandmother (Gena Rowlands).
They oppose the rule of the Shah, whose forces arrest her uncle (Iggy Pop). After the revolution, life is certainly different under the new theocratic regime, but marked by the restrictions and repression imposed by the morality police – on women, in particular. Marjane, a Bruce Lee fan who has embraced western pop music (from Abba to Iron Maiden), is bright and outspoken, and she objects to the propaganda she is fed in the classroom.
When she is 14 (now voiced by Chaira Mastroianni), her parents decide to send her to school in Vienna. It’s another world, but one where Marjane is ill at ease, yet on returning to Iran, she feels like a stranger in her own land. As she grows up, she has to make some difficult decisions if she wants to live the rest of her life with the freedom she covets.
Persepolis revolves around Marjane, her misadventures, pleasures and disappointments, which are set against periods of social and political change. Her strong voice rings out loud and clear throughout this wonderfully spirited movie that commendably refuses to portray her as angel or saint, victim or martyr. Time and again, the film eschews the traditional arc of scenarios charting and celebrating the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
There is a classical simplicity about the film’s hand-drawn animation, which is predominantly in bold strokes of black and white and takes on a charming quality of its own.
In a movie that finds and mines humour in some of the darkest, most unlikely places, many of the wittiest, most playful gags are visual.
Despite its specific political context, the movie reveals a universality as it confidently proceeds. It exudes warmth and humanity, subtly shifting moods as it breezes along at an energetic pace that never slackens, to form an exhilarating and truly special cinematic experience.
The classical simplicity of Persepolis’s hand-drawn animation takes on a charming quality of its own