18 October 2020 (released)
Persepolis is an interesting dive into Iran’s political history whilst also being a touching coming of age story that touches on the horrors of war, ethnic identity and unfair sexual politics. It’s an impeccably crafted experience and it’s one of the best-animated films I’ve ever seen.
Before I go on about the narrative I want to quickly touch upon how amazingly animated this film is. The very bleak and sketchbook-esque art style does an incredible job at setting the tone for this film and it faithfully keeps with the style of the art of the graphic novel. I’ve never read it but after looking at a couple of pages it’s almost identical.
In Persepolis, we follow Marjane, a young woman from Iran. The film begins with her as just a young girl and as it progresses we follow her as she grows up and faces the different trials and tribulations that come with being a young woman from Iran at the time. In the beginning, Marjane is just a child so she sees the war and bloodshed around her yet she doesn’t really have any understanding of what’s going on. To her, it’s all a game, so much so that her and her friends even reenact the torture of war prisoners as a way to entertain themselves. However, the more Marjane grows up, the more harrowing this tale becomes. Marjane starts to see and understand the injustice around her and it starts to affect her more directly as the battles around her start taking her family, neighbours and even her home from her.
This section of the film is one of the best parts visually because almost every frame is filled with very distinctive images that remain in your head and will convey how horrific it must be to be living the lives of the characters. Similarly to the 2014 game This War of Mine the imagery in this section does a great deal to help you connect and empathise with the characters because seeing all this makes you feel incredibly fortunate to be in a place where you don’t have to deal with the dangers of what they’re going through.
Like I said before this film is also a coming of age story and it’s really interesting seeing Marjane go through the typical things that come with being a teenager but seeing how it’s also incredibly different it is for her because of her surroundings. Like so many other people Marjane goes through the emo phase but unlike us, she has to go to a dodgy black market just to get a CD and she risks getting into serious trouble just to get that CD. Any western culture is looked down upon by her superiors so Marjane’s love for bands like Iron maiden is ridiculed and seen as dishonourable.
A sizeable portion of this film takes place out of Iran and it focuses on Marjane as she’s a bit more grown-up. She’s a full-fledged teenager now and she’s doing everything the other teenagers are doing. Going to parties, drinking, having sex etc, but no matter how hard Marjane tries she never feels like she fits in. Nobody around here really understands the struggles she’s been through and she finds it hard to speak to them or relate to any of their problems because they seem so insignificant to her. They complain about Christmas with their families when she would die to be able to have Christmas with her family in a safe space. This divide between Marjane and her peers leads to her facing struggles with her own self-identity. She wants to be a normal teenager like everyone around her but that opportunity has been robbed from her because up until this point her normal has been “Don’t speak bad about the government or you’ll be killed.” and that was the normal the rest of her family were still living in. It also doesn’t help that those around her have no clue about anything happening in Iran. To them they’re just “Warring savages” and they don’t understand that Marjane’s country is a beautiful country that is being tainted by horrible people. Because of everyone else’s view of Iran, Marjane starts to feel ashamed of her country. She doesn’t want to admit that she’s Iranian and she even begins to lie to people, telling them that she is french. But the problem with this is that she isn’t. The Iranian part of her will always be there and that culture and upbringing will always make her different to her french peers and it’s sad that at this point in her life she doesn’t see the beauty in her culture and upbringing.
The final act of the film heavily focuses on the sexual politics of the newly “Emancipated” Iran. The war is over but really for most, things just get worse. Marjane returns home and she realises that though she felt like she didn’t belong in France, she now feels like a stranger at home. So much has changed in her country and so much has changed inside her that she doesn’t feel like she has anyone who understands her anymore. In France, she couldn’t complain because the people hadn’t been through enough to understand her mountainous struggles and now in Iran, she couldn’t complain because the people around her had been through too much to understand her “Trivial” problems. This final section of the film is very sombre in tone because Marjane falls into a deep loneliness and depression.
In new Iran, though you were “free” you were still a prisoner. Women weren’t allowed out without a headscarf, they couldn’t wear what they wanted and it even goes to the point where they weren’t allowed to run. These new laws were weird to Marjane because she’s just returned from France where she was free and now she has had all of her freedom stripped from her. Yet to some in Iran this was normal and acceptable because they’d been through so much that this wasn’t that bad to them. They didn’t want to associate this new Iran with the oppressive old one yet in many ways it was the same. And these new rules cause incredible unhappiness for the people and led to unnecessary deaths
I think Persepolis is a great film because it does so many things so well. It’s an amazing coming of age story that perfectly oscillates between showing us things that make us relate to Marjane whilst also showing us how different her life is to ours. It also works well as commentary on Iranian culture as it goes through the countries history and challenges the current laws of the country. And finally, the film just works really well as a story that displays the horrors and effects of war, showing the war from a more human side so we get to see the more personal impacts of the war. This is honestly a film that I think pretty much everyone will like. it’s touching, unique and even funny and charming at points so I recommend it to pretty much anyone.