Where most wartime films capitalize on the hostility and intensity of battle, Marjane Satrapi’s poignant Persepolis captures the everyday emotional trauma of life in conflict zones.
The film, based on Satrapi’s eponymous graphic novel series, carries the same bold, illustratively animated style onto the screen. And its heroine, Marji, instantly captivates with a medley of wit and sarcasm that rivals that of MTV’s Daria.
Told mostly through her own reflections, Persepolis follows the state of Iranian life from ’79 to the early 2000s. But after the rise of a tyrannical government, the death of several loved ones and years of identity crises, the Marji we find is much changed from the spunky, Bruce Lee-loving youngster that first delivered us into the narrative.
Sure, a vast majority of this film fills one with a sense of political frustration and profound sympathy, but its vulnerably comical treatment of the struggles of puberty and love will leave you rolling on the floor.
From break-ups to breakdowns, Marji navigates it all with fantasy, bravery and brass. And if that’s not enough to entice you, her wonderfully off-key rendition of “Eye of the Tiger” (courtesy of Chiara Mastroianni) ought to sweeten the deal.
But regardless of how whimsical and interesting this film is, its novel roots are far more prevalent than its cinematic accessibility. It presents much more as an animated journal, rather than a movie.
This distance is due partly to the weight of its content but, perhaps more significantly, is also because the dialogue (originally produced in French) must be read, rather than experienced.
Personally, I prefer subtitles. But if that’s a source of annoyance, this narration-rich film might just push your tolerance over the edge.
As far as artful coming of age tales go, Persepolis has nearly no equal. It’s thoughtful, penetrating and one of few animated films that are truly adult oriented.
In addition to tackling an enormous historical burden in just 96 minutes, Satrapi also manages to make a foreign tragedy feel approachable. She places her entire life in the laps of her viewers by concentrating more on discovery rather than digestibility. This rawness though, if anything, only further heightens one’s respect for this film.
Having no particular partiality for animated films, let alone animated biographies, I’m ashamed to say that I might’ve let this gem slip past me. But I truly mean it when I say that this film is so much more than its genre.
You get to see how things as simple as rock music and lipstick can be life-changing in the context of another culture. And, above all, you get to sample the balanced, poetic and potent force that is French film.
So if you’ve got a soft spot for foreign features, unabashedly open narratives and brazen heroines, think of Persepolis. You might be confused, you might feel ashamed and you might be relieved that you weren’t the only one to have ever felt horribly alone, but you will certainly not be disappointed.