"Persepolis" is an animation film. But it is much more than just an animation film. Being a lover of animation films, I grabbed the first opportunity I got to see this much acclaimed movie at the Fame Multiplex the day before yesterday, and I was pleasantly rewarded. It is the poignant coming-of-age story of a young girl in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It is through the eyes of precocious and outspoken nine year old Marjane that we see a people's hopes dashed as fundamentalists take power - forcing the veil on women and imprisoning thousands. Clever and fearless, she outsmarts the "social guardians" and discovers punk, ABBA and Iron Maiden. Yet when her uncle is senselessly executed and as bombs fall around Tehran in the Iran/Iraq war, we can very well feel the daily fear that permeates regular life in Iran.
As she gets older, Marjane's boldness causes her parents to worry over her continued safety. And so, at age fourteen, they make the difficult decision to send her to school in Austria. Vulnerable and alone in a strange land, she endures the typical ordeals of a teenager. In addition, Marjane has to combat being equated with the religious fundamentalism and extremism she fled her country to escape. Over time, she gains acceptance, and even experiences love, but after high school she finds herself alone and horribly homesick. After a heart-break, she feels completely ravaged, and then she comes back to Iran. But Iran had been crumbling all along, ravaged by senseless wars & destruction, and that includes the attacks on the society's moral & cultural fibre.
Like all women, she has to don the veil and live in a tyrannical society, the only comfort is being with her family members, her parents and her spunky grandma yet again! After a difficult period of adjustment, she enters art school and even marries, rather hastily. However, all the while she continues to speak out against the hypocrisy she witnesses. At age 24, she realizes that while she is deeply Iranian, she cannot live in Iran. She then makes the heartbreaking decision to leave her homeland for France, optimistic about her future, shaped indelibly by her past.
Marjane Satrapi's brilliant autobiographical graphic novels "Persepolis: the Story of a Childhood" and "Persepolis 2: the Story of a Return" (which I never had a chance to read) had won widespread acclaim in France, even before they were made into this film. She has herself directed this filmed memoir, alongwith Vincent Paronnaud. In the dubbed-in-English version that I saw, the voice cast includes Sean Penn, Iggy Pop and Gena Rowlands, alongwith Catherine Deneuve and Marjane Satrapi. Olivier Bernet's original score is amazingly beautiful. And the stunning black & white visuals (when the liberating colours are shown in the opening and the closing sequences, they have such a powerful impact!) have stayed with me, and will surely be etched in my memory for good.
The title "Persepolis" comes from the Persian capital founded in the 6th century BC by Darius I, later destroyed by Alexander the Great. It's a reminder that there's an old and grand civilization, besieged by waves of invaders but carrying on through milennia, that is much deeper and more complex than the current-day view of Iran as a monoculture of fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism.
[courtesy: movies.yahoo.com, imdb.com, google.com, wikipedia.org)