Persepolis, 2007. Animated drama.
Persepolis is an Oscar-nominated film that premiered last year and which I regret not having seen on the big screen. Based on a graphic autobiographical novel by Marjane Satrapi, the author and her studio mate Vincent Paronnaud created a highly original film of unusual expressivity, pathos and humour. The voice-overs by Chiara Mastroianni as Marjane, her mother Catherine Deneuve as Marjane’s mother and Danielle Darrieux as Marjane’s grandmother, further enrich the esthetic experience. Filmed entirely in black and white, with the exception of a few flashes of colour thrown in for contrast, Persepolis is the Bildungsroman of a young girl growing up in Iran during the war between Iran and Iraq. It is also the story of how and why she became a rebel. The young Marjane rebelled against her unimaginative teachers, against the morality police, against the hypocrisy of Teheran middle-class society, against the execution of her beloved uncle after a long exile in the Soviet Union, against the violence she witnessed in the streets, against the bombs that lit up the cityscape, against a humourless society. And she did all this under the umbrella of a pampering father, a strict but sensible mother and the instigation of a feisty and irreverent grandmother with a strong sense of right and wrong.
When her rebelliousness threatened to get her into serious trouble, Marjane was sent to high school in Vienna, where she fell in with a group of nihilists and punks who were attracted to her because of her close contact with war and death. Her wake-up call came when she discovered Markus, the “love of her life”, in bed with another girl. That and near death by hypothermia in the streets after a drug overdose pushed her to phone her parents and ask for a ticket back home. Her loving family received her with open arms, no questions asked. There she married so that she could enjoy the “liberty” of a married woman, such as sex and greater social mobility. But that, too, proved to be a disaster, so she divorced her husband and then exiled herself to France, where she currently lives and exercises her artistic talents in full liberty.
What this film is all about is freedom of choice and expression, as a woman and as an artist. Marjane does a wonderful job of expressing herself in Persepolis. She does so with a dollop of self-criticism but without a hint of bitterness. Don’t feel bitter if you missed out on the big screen version of the movie, but you’ll regret it if you don’t rush out to rent the DVD.
Maya Khankhoje is a Montreal-based short story writer, poet, essayist and reviewer. Her English translation of Paulina y la Golondrina Azul, (Paulina Wonders) by Carmen Cordero, was published last November in Madrid, Spain.