Fresh onto the art house circuit comes Perspolis, a French (with English subtitles) animated version of the two autobiographical comics by Marjane Satrapi. We follow Satrapi’s story from her childhood years in the Iranian revolution of 1979, through teen years in the developing fundamentalist regime in the early ’80s, to flirtations with trendy Euro-nihlism at a Vienna school in her adolescence, and finally back to the repressive radical Shiite regime of Iran in her college/art school years before she leaves for France. Like the book, the story is told as a series of related episodes, much of it centered around her relationship with her equally rebellious grandmother, which mirrors the way in which Satrapi struggles to come to terms with her Iranian identity when that identity, like her country, has been hijacked by the oppressions of the Mullah regime.
While there are moments of humor, the overall story is very sad – we see the fear, damage & casualties of the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s through the eyes of a child, we see the ways in which the modern & educated within Iran go from being under the thumb of the Shah to being under the thumbs of the Mullahs in episodes that evoke elements of 1984, the Khmer Rouge and even The Pianist. Set against all of this, Satrapi’s coming-of-age story, including disastrous romances and the emotional roller-coaster resulting, show us how this young woman survived everything she has been through, and how her combative personality gave her enough strength to tell us her important story. It all made me wonder – I put myself in her shoes, and thought: what do you do when your country goes crazy? Then I was back to being me, Jimmy the American Jew™, and thinking what can we do to prevent the very same people who arrest people for playing cards and listening to music from getting the bomb? Every idea put forth by politicians ranging from sanctions to ka-boom! relies on making the Iranian population angry enough to revolt, but this movie reminds us, tragically, how much they are suffering already. If after taking all this shit they haven’t revolted yet, will they ever? Oy. I can’t think of an answer, and I did the Sunday crossword today in about twenty minutes, so therefore, I am a GENIUS!
The animation follows the style of Satrapi’s art, and is in black and white, except for a colored framing device around the movie which is all told in flashback. It’s simple, hand-drawn, and with minimal dazzle – and it’s perfect for this material. Sometimes the simple captures character much better than the flashy, and strength of character is what this one is all about. Thumbs up!