The beautiful animation and deep political subtext of Persepolis are only a small part of its appeal
Persepolis is indelibly the work of Marjan Satrapi, from its initial run as a pair of graphic novels she wrote and illustrated to this animated adaptation she co-wrote and co-directed. Her spirit and vision remains astonishingly intact through the transition — the incredibly lush animation of the film reverberates with the spirit of Satrapi’s initial lines. Persepolis stands as a testament to her personal story told with clear-eyed conviction and passion, making for a dazzling cinematic experience.
Along with famed French comic artist Vincent Paronnaud, Satrapi (voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) vividly recounts her childhood in Iran under the Shah and Islamic regimes, as well as her eventual self-imposed exile. We follow Satrapi as a young girl in Iran, wishing only to become a prophetess and shave her legs. It’s a childhood where Iron Maiden cassettes can only be bought on the black market and the military cracks down on alcohol-fuelled parties.
Much like the graphic novel, Persepolis is very episodic in structure; the film loosely connects moments rather than letting them unfold. Each moment leans into the next, Mastroianni’s narration providing continuity and making for a dense narrative. Every one of these moments is lovingly animated with craft and wit, like Satrapi’s uncle explaining Iran’s history as a play of paper dolls, or a loving tribute to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” While Satrapi’s abilities as a cartoonist never hindered her storytelling, the animation of the film brings impressive vigour and flourish, especially within the intricate details of the backgrounds.
Persepolis presents life in Iran as the backdrop for a story of self-discovery. Its aspirations never seem political, yet Satrapi as a character believes in freedom, passion and revolution. Though the character proudly wears her politics on her sleeve, the film never does. It doesn’t treat life in Iran as an abstraction or an opportunity for political treatises and, in turn, is powerful and honest. Satrapi probably couldn’t tell her story any other way — Persepolis may be the most personal movie you’ll see this year.