The movie starts off in Iran introducing Marjane as a young girl who adores Bruce Lee, dreams of being an almighty disciple and aspires to shave her legs. She is bright, strong-spirited and absorbent of the value system roaming the streets of her hometown, while living under the dictatorship of the Shah. Her family, however, is westernized, non-authoritative and has a history of political rebellion. Soon enough, the Shah is overturned, the mullahs take over, and Marjane’s obliviousness and naivety are tainted by the tense political climate she is suddenly confronted with. As she witnesses oppression casting its chastising shadow over her world, she finds herself unreceptive to the religious fanaticism plaguing her surroundings. Aware of the dangers of Marjane’s revolutionary antics, having witnessed many of their family members get slaughtered due to similar behavior, Marjane’s parents decide to send her to Europe, where she could grow up to be an educated and emancipated woman, away from the dangers and shortsightedness residing in her homeland. Marjane is received in Vienna with lukewarm hospitality as she struggles to fit in, and eventually, many heartaches and years later, seeks shelter in her parents’ arms. Back in Iran, she quickly confirms the fact that she does not belong there either, and finds herself confronted with the budding notions of being a perpetual outsider and accepting one’s roots.
Despite the extremely sad and serious subject matter, Persepolis dabbles in simplicity and light-heartedness that make its harsh history lessons and underdog tale palatable to viewers of all ages without being a downer. In fact, I spent most of the movie smiling at the endearing propos of Marjane and her family members, and at ease with the tactful and non-judgmental discourse of the movie. I never felt as though I was being hammered with ideals or subversive political propaganda; a great feat considering the subject matter. The storytelling is so honest and heartfelt, that even a cynic would embrace this movie unquestionably.
The black and white 2D animation fits Persepolis’ content like a glove. It is simple, yet extremely emotional and gripping. At the risk of sounding pedantic, I would go as far as saying that this movie follows the guidelines of the German expressionists. Morphing settings and characters, harsh contrasts, silhouetted or spotlighted subjects and sinuous stairs are very few of the semiotic devices that make of Persepolis a visual gem.
Rarely are animated movies explored as a means to tackle important and contemporary issues as opposed to escapist and fantastic storytelling. It is refreshing to come across a movie like Persepolis, which uses its medium to get its point across to as many people as possible. If Persepolis was a live action film, it would have never reached the level of charm and accessibility that this movie attains, and when dealing with crucial issues such as freedom, tolerance, identity and roots, this animated movie comes more as a blessing and an example to be followed.
Review by Ralph Arida