Monday, July 13, 2009

Marjane Satrapi and PERSEPOLIS; Growing Up In The Islamic Republic of Iran

Every once in awhile you see a movie on a cable premium channel that you say, "How did I ever miss this?" upon seeing it. Pan's Labyrinth was one film I resisted...maybe because of the fact that it was in Spanish with English subtitles, or because my inability to grasp the concept of it being a fairy tale being told in the structure of a war drama- and a very bloody, brutal "no children under 14" war movie at that. Upon finally seeing Pan's Labyrinth I became like an evangelist for the film, telling all who would listen, "You've got to see this flick!".

Persepolis, made in France with English subtitles and released in 2007 is another film that I heard of, always put off seeing, and finally sat down and watched on cable TV. Its an animated feature, and after seeing it today, at long last, I have to say this - its not only a great entertainment, but one of the most important films I've ever seen. It is particularly relevant today because of its subject matter; Iran, the Iranian people, a brief history lesson of the country, and the story of a young Iranian girl growing to womanhood, spanning the days from the fall of the Shah in the late 1970's through the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980's, and into the 1990's. Even the best read westerner may think they know the story of Iran- but until you see this film you will probably be missing large pieces of the story, the most important parts of all- the human tale that doesn't make it into newspapers, periodicals, or to cable news.

Persepolis is an adaptation of the biographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. Below a brief bio (from

"Marjane Satrapi was born in Iran in 1969 in a modern family. When she was fourteen years old, she was sent to Vienna, to flee the dictatorial regime in Iran. She led a vagrant life for a while, and eventually returned to Iran where she got married. In 1994, after a divorce, she moved to France. There, she began working on her autobiographical graphic novel 'Persepolis'. It was published by L'Association and became an instant success. Not only was this the first Iranese comic ever, she designed it especially to tell people about the real Iran, beyond the prejudices that surround a dictatorship. Marjane Satrapi has planned to release 'Persepolis' in four parts. Besides a comic artist, she is also a writer and illustrator of children's books".

A more complete and detailed biography can be found here.

There were so many unforgettable scenes in this film; young Marjane with her beloved uncle (before he was arrested by revolutionary guards and subsequently executed), her buying an IRON MAIDEN CD on the black market in Tehran, her relationship with her parents and her wise grandmother. In the bleakness of the fundamentalist dictatorship there is humor in the absurdity of some aspects of day to day life. In one scene Marjane is in an art class in the university studying Botticelli's VENUS RISING- with, as the Monty Pythons would say, all of her "naughty bits" filled in with crude brush strokes. Or in another art class when the female subject, covered head to toe with clothing and a veil, offers the same visual perspective to the art students from any angle....there is no difference, just a mass of clothing with partially covered face.

We see a world where women may be arrested and flogged for indecency, and in some instances hanged. Where underage females convicted of crimes are sometimes married to prison guards, raped, and then executed- the law doesn't permit the execution of virgins. Where suicide is often preferable to arrest and torture.

And through it all we see the basic truth....that even in a repressive dictatorship like Iran, most of its people are just people, the same as all of us, with dreams, lives, loves, laughter and tears. Human beings all too often tend to separate ourselves from ourselves; we need to look for the commonality in each and everyone of us. It is the basic truth and teaching of this fabulous film.

Check your cable TV lineup; its available on STARZ in the United States, also On Demand. Or download it, or rent it.

Above all....see Persepolis. It is special....and thank you, Marjane Satrapi, for sharing your story- and that of your country- with the world.

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