While girl coming-of-age films in the US more often than not shed a narrow spotlight on boys and bras, the tragicomic screen-toon Persepolis has something far greater in mind. Namely, a boldly refreshing awakening to the world out there that goes beyond the personal, and embraces a multitude of political concepts.
Based on a popular French collection of four graphic novels, Persepolis is an illustrated movie biopic visualizing through vividly illuminating animation the life of filmmaker and graphic artist Marjane Satrapi, who was born in Iran and sent to live in Europe at the age of fourteen. The distinguished actresses who voice the affectionately fleshed out charismatic Iranian women include Chiara Mastroianni as Marjane, Catherine Deneuve as her mother Tadji (and in real life the mom with dad Marcello Mastroianni of offspring Chiara), and Danielle Darrieux voicing the role of Marjane’s grandmother.
Persepolis extends from the 1970’s through the 1990s, with stark and often volatile history as a relentless force and backdrop to emotion, passion and cultural dislocation. Marjane grows up in a colorful and idealistic, creatively stimulating household, the daughter of leftist intellectual parents, much like the young female protagonist in Blame It On Fidel.
But the US backed Shah has established a period of brutal repression, and activists, including within her own family, are being arrested as political prisoners, disappeared, tortured and in many cases executed. When the Islamic Revolution unfolds, with a furious fundamentalist backlash against foreign economic domination and Western cultural decadence, Marjane and her friends find themselves subjected to strict religious conformist conventions concerning female behavior and dress.
Marjane remains a politically outspoken schoolgirl, and so her family, fearing for her defiant nature, sends her off to be schooled in Europe. There Marjane encounters a different set of oppressive experiences, including ethnic prejudice and sexual exploitation. Persepolis is a remarkably eloquent personal journey into complicated womanhood, whose candor and poetry of the naked soul make one quickly forget that this is a movietoon, as it reaches into the heart to explore raw emotion and existential pain.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
3 1/2 stars
DVD Features: English Language version of the film featuring the voices of Chiara Mastroianni, Sean Penn, Catherine Deneuve, Gena Rowlands and Iggy Pop; The Hidden Side of Persepolis Featurette: The Making of the French Version; Behind the Scenes of Persepolis: The Recording of the English Version; Audio Commentary by Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud & Chiara Mastoianni on Select Scenes; Animated Scene Comparisons, With Commentary by Marjane Satrapi; 2007 Cannes Film Festival Press Conference Q & A with Cast and Crew.