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Films: Persepolis (PG)

The last days of Persia revisited in black and white. Vinny Lawrenson Woods decides if it's worth it

Published on April 24th 2008.

Films: Persepolis (PG)

GRAPHIC novels are big business for movie makers and, after the successes of 300, Sin City, V for Vendetta and Batman Begins, the moguls have turned their attention to Persepolis.

Persepolis, which was the ancient name of the capital of Persia, is an animated, autobiographical account of Marjane Satrapi’s childhood in Iran at the time of the 1979 revolution and the Iran/Iraq war.

Now a children’s author and illustrator, Satrapi was the great granddaughter of the deposed Shah of Iran. She grew up in the capital, Tehran, and now lives in Paris.

The film, adapted from her novel of the same name, shared the Special Jury Prize at Cannes last year and the English language version, starring the voices of Sean Penn , Catherine Deneuve, Gena Rowlands, Chiara Mastroianni, and Iggy Pop, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature earlier this year.

Animated in black and white, Persepolis is co-written and co-directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. It tells the story of Marjane, great-granddaughter of Nasser al-Din Shah, Shah of Persia.

We meet Marjane at the age of nine, coming to terms with the violent events unfolding around her. Growing up in a progressive, middle class family, she witnesses the fall of the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi. Unfortunately, the revolution only replaces one tyranny with another.

We follow Marjane as she describes her own unique experiences during the rise of The Islamic Republic of Iran. The Nazi Party in Germany and the Taliban in Afghanistan come to mind as we witness how attractive and dangerous ideologies can be.

Marjane struggles with her own identity, bouts of depression and a loss of faith during this volatile time in her country’s history. It is summed up brilliantly with a scene – one you won’t see very often at the cinema - between Marjane, God and Karl Marx.

Over the next few years in the tale, Iran’s religious fundamentalists introduce the veil, ban alcohol and many Western references. After a sustained campaign of capturing and executing thousands of dissidents, Iran is then attacked by Iraq. Forced to flee the ravages of war, Marjane spends most of her teens exiled in Vienna. Returning to Iran after the war, Marjane enrols at the University of Tehran and is married for a short while, but being an outspoken woman in an increasingly oppressive regime, she feels she has to leave the country of her birth for good.

Like Ghada Kharmi’s novel In Search of Fatima, Persopolis is a story of displacement seen through the eyes of a young girl. Describing her experience of loss and nostalgia, Marjane is caught between two worlds, fitting into neither.

Persepolis is a wonderfully sincere and faithfully reproduced piece of storytelling. The animation is beautiful, effortless and engaging, the dialogue touching and amusing, but I couldn’t help feeling the novel doesn’t really benefit from the move to the big screen.

This extremely personal story is better suited and more powerful as a piece of literature and unlike other graphic novel makeovers the film doesn’t offer any new take on the original material.


Persepolis, FACT Picturehouse, Wood St. Until Thurs May 1.

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