AFI Fest: Review of Animation "Persepolis" (November 10, 2007)

Marjane Satrapi, Clairmont - November 2, 2006 - by QH

“Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité?

Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's animated masterpiece is a movie in French with English subtitles meant for grown-ups. It's mostly shot in black and white which fits the dark subject matter. Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni and Danielle Darrieux icons of French cinema provide the voices. It's a riveting, intense and emotionally charged feature. One also gets a high dose of witty dark humor. However, Persepolis can also be viewed as a highly political movie, which calls for "regime change" in Iran. It's a mix of fiction and reality and to make her point Ms. Satrapi cheats. In other words, the ends justify the means. She needs to make clarifications on what is fiction in the script. Also, one only sees the morality police (the basij) and the revolutionary guards. The ruling clerics are invisible in this movie. This is not a realistic portrayal of Post-Revolutionary Iran.

The movie focuses on Iran's Cultural Revolution (1980-1987). During this period, the government attempted to purge Western and non-Islamic influences (similar to the purges in China during the era of Mao Tse-tung). However, it didn't succeed. Iran today, is a vibrant society despite all the restrictions from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. There is a civil society in place and people are politically aware. The younger generation of Iranians are content with their lives. They insist that any change should be made from inside Iran and oppose Western interference in the internal affairs of the country.

Satrapi's real name is Ebrahimi and she uses her maiden name as a Pen name. Ebrahimi is a common and religious name. Satrap was the title of provincial governor in ancient Persia. Persepolis is the Greek word for ancient capital of Persia. Hence, the names go well together. She has said that the government executed her uncle on spying charges. Yet, Marjane's parents still live in Iran and she has disclosed very little about them. She is among thousands who claim to be a descendant of the Qajar family. Therefore, the "Princess" title is an exaggeration. Finally, the Tudeh party was very popular among intellectuals in Iran in the 1950s and 1960s. Therefore, it wasn't something out of the ordinary to be a "Tudehi". Marjane has an upper class background and attended private schools like many others in Iran. However, she isn't an aristocrat but a troubled young rebel living in exile. She’s in for the ride of her life with the success of this feature. But does she really deserve it?

Most Iranian policy experts and scholars believe that another revolution for Iran is political suicide may cause the fragmentation of Iran. Therefore, we cannot embrace this movie as our own since it serves foreign interest. It was made with French money and the aid of French animators and producers. The movie won Prix du Jury (the Grand Jury Prize in Cannes) and is the French entry for the upcoming Academy Awards for best foreign film. Iran is one of the most misunderstood countries in the world, and this movie creates more ambiguity. The film touches on human rights violations and abuses in Iran. It's so grim and hopeless. Ironically, Iranian cinema has shined on the international stage during the same period. Kiarostami, Mehrjui, Bani-Etemad, Makhmalbof and Naderi have created humanistic masterpieces using secular rather than religious themes in their movies.

This film ignores the positive aspects of Iran's revolution. Progress has been made in science, arts, and sports. Iran has one of the highest literacy rates in the region and women make up 65 percent of all university students. Satrapi wrote Persepolis I and II targeting non-Iranians. The animated feature also aims at changing the perceptions of Western audiences. Furthermore, Marjane is a French citizen who has completely assimilated to the French way of life. That is why French celebrities such as Catherine Deneuve are backing her in this cause. But, it would be unrealistic for us to use the French System as an analog for the future of Iran. Some have dismissed Marjane as foul-mouthed spoiled brat. But, I believe she is very clever and has an agenda. Like most exiles, she cannot visit Iran. Therefore, she dreams of a free and democratic Iran. This is her attempt to do something about what she strongly believes. But, it's not an honest attempt and too good to be true. We encourage those unfamiliar with Iran to watch the documentaries such as Iran : une révolution cinématographique, Persepolis Recreated, Rageh Inside Iran or read nonfiction books such as "Hidden Iran" in order to get a balanced perspective. Commercial movies like Alexander and 300 don't portray a true image of our glorious past. But, never mind that these movies distort reality. Everyone knows that filmmakers write history nowadays.

One can infer that this animated feature is calling for a bloody revolution to change the system in Iran. However, some day the Iranian government will change but with a hand shake and not bloodshed.

Chiara Mastrtoianni - Marjane as a teenager and adult
Catherine Deneuve - Tadji (Marjane's mother)
Animation Persepolis - courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Danielle Darrieux - Marjane's grandmother
Simon Abkarian - Ebi (Marjane's father)
Gabrielle Lopes Benites - Marjane (child)
Francois Jerosme - Uncle Anouche

Directed by Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi
Screenplay by Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi
Based on the graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi
Produced by Marc-Antoine Robert, Xavier Rigault,
Kathleen Kennedy (Executive Producer) Marc Jousset (Executive Producer)

Budget: $8.1 million.
Running Time: 95 MIN.
Rating: Rated PG-13
Distributor: Sony Picture Classics

Related Links
Marjane Satrapi Lecture & Booksigning - Claremont McKenna College (November 2, 2006)
Persepolis I & II Book Reviews
Marjane Satrapi: Princess of darkness - The Independent (October 5, 2006)
Persepolis (Old Persian Pârsa, modern Takht-e Jamshid)

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