Persepolis personalizes Iran

Directed by Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi(Sony Pictures Classics)4.5 StarsIf you went to see “Atonement” sometime in the past couple of weeks and were as disappointed in watching beautiful English people run around the countryside for two hours as I was, then you were probably equally delighted to glimpse a preview for “Persepolis.” This feature-length animated film is an adaptation of the graphic novel memoirs of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian/French illustrator who also co-directed the film. It has been nominated for Best Animated Feature for this year’s Oscars. It stars the voices of Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux and Simon Abkarian. If nothing else need be said about the film, it is absolutely beautiful and should be seen on this accolade alone. A long film, the lyric black and white animation with splashes of color does what a guy with a camera could only dream. The stylized figures play across the screen sometimes like shadow puppets blending in with their two-dimensional environment and back out again. It’s as though Dali were asked to guest-animate an episode of “The Adventures of Tintin.” It’s distinctly surreal – and distinctly French. The French have a shaky history with the Middle East and Islam in general, and I didn’t know what to expect when I went to see the film – a tirade against Islam in favor of individualistic-oriented Western capitalism, or a condemnation of it – a plea for cultural relativism or a call for Ataturk-style secularism. The film is the kind of “every-story” that has to do with the Iranian revolution in 1979 that deposed the Shah, for a religiously conservative and anti-Western Islamic Republic under which many of the left-leaning secular activists, who had helped to bring about the fall of the Shah, had to flee the country or live under stifling religious rule. The film is deeply personal. Marjane, the little girl in the beginning of the film at the time of the revolution, is sent to Vienna by her parents who fear for her safety. But once there, she doesn’t find herself able to wear her hair down and listen to punk as one might think she would. Rather, she finds herself alienated and missing home. When the war between Iraq and Iran finally ends, she pleads with her parents to return to Iran. She returns where she finds the political climate even more repressive than when she left. She doesn’t fit in there either. When she is caught driving in a car with a man she is not related to she is giving the option of being whipped for it or paying a fine. People constantly tell her to fix her veil. This is not an uncommon Iranian story and, because it is a memoir, its plot is the history of the country told via Marjane. It’s a pastoral of sorts to Iran and the country’s experience – a deeply moving portrait of its people’s struggles against tyranny and state sponsored oppression and of trying to fit in the West.