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  Publicity Stills of "Persepolis"
(Courtesy from Festive Films)

Academy Awards Nomination
Best Animated Feature

Golden Globe Nomination
Best Foreign Language Film

New York Film Critics
BEST FOREIGN PICTURE (Tie with "The Lives of Others")

Los Angeles Film Critics
BEST ANIMATION AWARD (Tie with "Ratatouille")

Cannes Film Festival ~ Grand Jury Prize

Genre: Animation/Drama
Director: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni
RunTime: 1 hr 35 mins
Released By: Festive Films & Cathay-Keris Films
Official Website:

Opening Day: 21 February 2008


"Persepolis" is the poignant story of a young girl in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It is through the eyes of precocious and outspoken nine year old Marjane that we see a people's hopes dashed as fundamentalists take power - forcing the veil on women and imprisoning thousands. Clever and fearless, she outsmarts the "social guardians" and discovers punk, ABBA and Iron Maiden. Yet when her uncle is senselessly executed and as bombs fall around Tehran in the Iran/Iraq war, the daily fear that permeates life in Iran is palpable.

As she gets older, Marjane's boldness causes her parents to worry over her continued safety. And so, at age fourteen, they make the difficult decision to send her to school in Austria. Vulnerable and alone in a strange land, she endures the typical ordeals of a teenager. In addition, Marjane has to combat being equated with the religious fundamentalism and extremism she fled her country to escape. Over time, she gains acceptance, and even experiences love, but after high school she finds herself alone and horribly homesick.

Though it means putting on the veil and living in a tyrannical society, Marjane decides to return to Iran to be close to her family. After a difficult period of adjustment, she enters art school and marries, all the while continuing to speak out against the hypocrisy she witnesses. At age 24, she realizes that while she is deeply Iranian, she cannot live in Iran. She then makes the heartbreaking decision to leave her homeland for France, optimistic about her future, shaped indelibly by her past.

Movie Review:

“Persepolis” is a persuasive reminder of struggles still remnant in the Middle East with Iran taking centrestage during these times of dangerous rhetoric. The blossoming political consciousness of a young girl is dutifully evinced in Marjane Satrapi's (co-directed by Vincent Paronnaud) feature animation adapted from an autobiographical graphic novel by Satrapi, an Iranian exile in France. She tells her story with an uncommon grace, an elegant emotional journey fraught with the bittersweet remembrance of youth and the aching longing for her heritage left behind in Tehran, and her formative years with a loving and progressive family.

Satrapi invokes post 9/11 prejudices and the collision of cultural norms with the colour-laden opening sequence set in an airport where she waits for a flight as a grown woman in her traditional headscarf and a cigarette in hand, cognisant of the suspicious looks she receives from those around her. The film’s framing device takes shape as a monochromatic flashback is constructed into 1978 Iran, where eight-year-old Marjane Satrapi is obliviously practicing her “Enter the Dragon” routine, right smack in the middle of collective vigilance, in a country on the verge of an inevitable clash between liberal modern secularism and oppressive religious tyranny. A quick history lesson tells of the deposed Shah’s suppressive rule giving way to an even more fundamentalist regime under the ayatollah. Regardless of the social turmoil unfolding around the neighbourhoods, the playgrounds and her apartment, Marjane lives her childhood, with the kinship of her fiercely spirited family, as happy as she possible can.

This is the film’s strongest segment in its bifurcated narrative, which further bleeds into Marjane’s adolescence and personal upheavals. The scenes with her as a child are a joy to witness as we see how her burgeoning ideas are moulded from an unbridled imagination and the intellectual stimulation that her immediate environments now offers her as she starts forming vital (but often times flawed) opinions and observations of people around her, including those who she would never again see. As her childhood wanes, Satrapi wistfully looks back at her naiveté as a time of not mere transition, but as a time of implicit obligation, as the burden of state-enforced tradition forces a change of perception when her mother and grandmother are subjugated against their will to adhere to patriarchal conservatism by donning pitch-black veils that mask not just their faces, but their identities in its most personal sense.

The film’s starkly vivid aesthetics are in contrast to the rich emotions extrapolated from Satrapi’s narration. The adherence to hand-drawn animation is congruent to one of the film’s core themes of recalling the past while marching forward to a future by pushing the antiquated technique to innovative and expressionistic tableaus, and in the process finds a sort of freedom in its austerity that offers its intimate narrative fluidity as it traverses 30 years of personal and political history with nary a blip.

As Satrapi confronts her past, the monuments of history in Tehran start to pale in comparison to individual epiphanies and personal revolutions through different times and places. And one of the grand truths of “Persepolis” is that growing up, the quintessential coming-of-age story we all eventually tell is by and large a trial by fire. It is a time when we are unsure of who we are supposed to know, or what we are supposed to be, and even wary of whether we want what we are supposed to want.

“Persepolis” eschews idealism for a tentative sense of identity in an increasingly tumultuous world, the transposing of personal demons and the roots that hark back to Satrapi despite various dislocations. She configures the landscape of political upheaval to a distinctively personal voice. It’s an unsentimental c’est la vie, a stirring dictum of finding a foothold wherever we land and never letting go what freedoms we come into the world with.

Movie Rating:

(Configures the landscape of political upheaval to a distinctively personal voice)

Review by Justin Deimen


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