Superbly elegant and simple, it is based on the comic-book series by the Franco-Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi who has co-written and co-directed the movie version. And what a treat, funny and moving with a bracingly authentic feel, reproducing the book’s graphic work with broad, bold strokes and a depth-of-field effect achieved with a recessive series of two-dimensional planes, like the ocean waves at the back of a panto set. Muted colour tones are introduced for sequences happening in the present, and deploying the cartoonist’s classic skill, Satrapi creates witty and sympathetic facial expressions with hardly more than a squiggle. This is one of those rare things in the cinema: a movie with an urgent new story to tell and an urgent new way of telling it
Persepolis is a painful, even tragic tale of alienation, persecution, frustration and exile. But it never gets sentimental and it doesn’t give way to self-pity nor explode in impotent anger. Instead, it combines witty, caustic observation with a warm humanity and a deep sense of life’s absurdity. Marjane is a lovely character, a serious, rebellious, humorous young woman with a zest for life and a commitment to Orwellian truths.
The animated form gives the film-makers a flexibility they would not have in a live-action film. The mood and style can change within a couple of frames as the real gives way to the surreal and then to a world of caricature. Marjane conducts conversations with God and Karl Marx up in the clouds. A teenager is killed by soldiers during an anti-Shah demonstration, dies in a pool of blood and is carried off as a martyr in the style of an agitprop poster.
Marjane’s uncle gives her a rundown on Britain’s role in the creation of modern Iran after the First World War, which is as savagely satirical as a cartoon by Low or Vicky. The teenage Marjane changes shape before us, her breasts exploding, her buttocks jutting out, her legs stretching, as she describes her physical journey into adulthood. These are all great moments. The characters come to life, most especially the heroine’s wise grandmother, who tells her always to retain her integrity and never embrace victimhood. ‘You always have a choice,’ she says.
Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi | France/USA | 2007 | 96 minutes | 12a