Marji is a young and rebellious tomboy who lives in the city of Tehran, before the Iranian revolution. Her parents regularly protest against the government, their friends and relatives being arrested for their Communist beliefs, and she herself prefers going against what politics wants, being a big fan of Bruce Lee and dreams of becoming a prophet. The revolution ends up leading to a war against Iraq, and everyone’s lives become so much like hell. As Marji grows older and becomes more rebellious to the regime, her parents send her off to Austria for her safety. While the more free country of Austria sounds like the better way of life, Marji discovers that even freedom can be just as bad as the repressed life of Iran, being out-casted because of where she came from. Now an adult, Marji has to choose if in the end, she should live the repressed yet friendly life of Tehran, or carry on living the free yet lonely world in Europe.
The film is based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian born French Illustrator who also co-directed the film with Vincent Paronaud, who she selected after seeing his artwork. Most of the artistic and writing decisions were hers, including having it presented in Black-and-White to avoid any of the characters feeling like foreigners in a country. While several studios worked on the film, animation is credited to Perseprod Studio, with designs by Art Director Marc Jousset. The film premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, winning the Jury Award, and was released worldwide later in the year, along with protests for the Iranian views expressed in the film. It was not only nominated for Best Animated Feature Film, but also was France’s submission for Best Foreign Film at the 80th Academy Awards.
The animation is simple yet surprisingly effective, the majority of the film is in black and what, with minimal use of shading outside the background, hair and clothes lacking detail to the point where every woman has blobs of black for hair, and yet it works. The monochrome feel really shows the dictatorship and restricted lifestyle found in the film’s environment, and since the scenes are very clear and very well presented, it allows anyone to watch the film and understand it. Some of the effects and scenes later on become really haunting and uncomfortable just to see what this woman goes through.
The music is good but not really memorable, there are moments when the music does escalate the drama and fear of the scenery I don’t think the soundtrack is just as good outside of the film. For some reason the film decides to have a small musical number of, and I’m not kidding, Eye of the Tiger. It feels out of place and confusing, it doesn’t make sense why it should be there in the first place other than a weak attempt at a change of character montage to comedic effect, not to mention it is purposely sung off-key which makes it sound annoying.
An interesting thing to note about the voice acting is that the film was originally dubbed in French, with the cast consisting of French actors. However for the US release, they put more than basic effort into the English Dub. Not only did a few of the French cast such as Chiara Mastroianni reprise their roles, but France 3 Cinema reanimate every lip-movement to match up with the English track, which is considerable effort for a dub. The voice acting in the English dub is mostly good, despite all of them lacking any effort of accents or tones to suit their character, with the exception of Mastroianni as the older Marji who actually sounds like someone who was possibly from Iranian, a good effort considering she’s directly French.
To me, Persepolis feels like three different stories that link together and for a 1½ hour film, it felt longer because it was very engaging. On the whole the story is the autobiographical life of Marjane Satrapi, but separated into three parts that share little connection between each other besides except having similar characters and the occasional reference of the past. The first story is about Marjane’s early childhood where the revolution and the fall of the Shah, along with her experiences during its extreme repression. The second is about her highschool life in Austria, seeing how different life is and how people view her heritage. The third is her moving back to a new Iran and trying to move back to her past life. I think the last story is the weakest, since nothing really shocking or interesting happens, other than what we already know, it still keeps the viewer’s interest in both the story and Marjane herself but in the end nothing really changed for her. Other than that there is nothing really I can criticise about in terms of the story, it explores the ideas of freedom and how they affect people and it is amazing how much this one person has been through in her life.
I wish for more people to see this film, it should be recognised on a whole for its brilliant use of the most simplistic art and groundbreaking story that can even be related to recent times with wars and lack of freedom in parts of the world. This is a film that should deserve a lot more than it currently has at the moment.
Persepolis is available from Optimum Releasing and Sony Pictures. The original graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi was originally published as four volumes by L’Association in France between 2000 and 2002, being squashed into two volumes for the English publication by Patheon in 2003. A recent reprint of the book was made for the film’s release by Patheon.