PERSEPOLIS (Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud, 2007)

Its title referring to Iran’s rich history by way of an ancient Persian city, Persepolis is based on a series of autobiographical graphic novels by French immigrant Marjane Satrapi, who was a child in Iran when Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s reign crumbled. Tyranny begot tyranny: the Islamic Revolution, which equally opposed Marjane’s progressive family, imprisoning members afresh and executing them. Directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, Persepolis is the coming-of-age chronicle of the young exile before she returns home prior to her leaving Iran yet again. The film covers the most difficult years of an exceedingly difficult life, including a period of homelessness in Vienna.
     The film is animated; it is possibly the most dazzling animated film ever. It is rich in human characters, not cartoon ones, and its visual basis is the woodcut rather than the comic strip. It is a graphic novel-in-motion.
     Nearly all the simulated woodcut images are in black and white, with the Iran passages largely falling into two categories: ones dramatizing the regimentation into which Islamic Iran restricted females; Marjane’s feisty rebelliousness—an extension of her spirited family, including her independent grandmother, beautifully voiced by Danielle Darrieux, Max Ophüls’s Madame de . . ., in her seventy-sixth year of film acting.
     Americans may be most gripped by the film’s reference to the Iran-Iraqi War, where the participants were pawns of the U.S., which sold arms to both sides.
     The film is somber, deeply moving—and hilarious. A mock-idyllic passage subjectively shows Marjane’s Austrian boyfriend as a beautiful sun-god; after she finds him in bed with someone else and walks out on him, he is a pimply-faced yukko.
     But perhaps most haunting is the teacher’s chalk’s crumbling fallout on the front blackboard as war breaks out outside the schoolroom window.

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