Persepolis (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
viewed: 02/18/08 at CineArts @ the Empire, SF, CA

Adapted from the comics of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical, Persepolis, and adapted and co-directed by Satrapi, the animated film of her story is a poignant and sad coming of age story, set against the changing culture of Iran in the 1970’s through the 1980’s.  The style, simple, high-contrast images mostly, effectively develop the character of Marjane, with whom it is so easy to identify and empathize.

Though raised in Tehran, Marjane is succorred on Western pop culture of her childhood, though much of it is smuggled into the country and more radical to simply enjoy.  She could in many ways, from that stance, her cynical, impish character, could be a next door neighbor.  Perhaps this struck me because Satrapi is my age and her interests are all familiar.  Even her attitude.

The difference is that she is not a next-door neighbor, but a child of upper middle class intellectuals in a country vastly different than the United States.  For all intents and purposes, for much of the younger years depicted, Iran was an “enemy state”, a place where as a child, I had virtually no genuine understanding.  I reckon back to the 1980 45 single “Bomb Iran” by Vince Vance & the Valiants (yes, I had to wikipedia it to get the group’s name), which bopping along to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”, summed up the popular understanding of American knowledge and sentiment of the time (though I am sure highly derided as well).

This is just to say that there is identification and then there is identification.  The reason that this story is compelling is the challenges that Marjane battles in her Westernized personal identity versus her Iranian cultural identity, the brutal changes and destruction of freedom, the killing of a country and a city as it had been known by her family.  And the killing of thousands of dissidents, intellectuals, Communists, by an increasingly lethal government.  The Iran/Iraq war, which the U.S. had its ruthless hand in, never really touches so much the lives of the average Americans, though it devastated a generation of Iranians.

In the end, Satrapi’s identity is in crisis, escaping the Europe, once miserably as a teenager, then ultimately as a young adult.  It’s a very moving story, and perhaps because of her intelligence and Westernization, is so easy to understand and identify with.  The ending, of her separation from Iran, is sad but emphatic, though there is obviously so much more story after.

I have not read the comic, though I am interested now.  I have had several Iranian friends over the years, some who lived through similar periods in Tehran and perhaps for similar reasons, came West.  The friends that I have, I would think perhaps were not raised with the same access to popular culture, but were certainly familiar with Western literature and art.  I would think to an extent that they may come from a similar social level, the intelligencia, perhaps more at odds with the turning of the culture to a more rigorous form of Islam.  So, in that sense, the connection feels more personal.

I found it to be a very moving and telling film, especially considering beyond the emotional identification, the historical perspective provided by the film.  In watching several documentaries about the history of American intervention in the Middle East, there is an even further humanizing to the understanding of the people of the country, the variety of experience, and a better sense of what difference exists and does not.

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