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Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud, 2007)


A confessional, imagination-laden memoir of life in Iran over the past few decades, Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis quickly wears out its welcome. Adapted from Satrapi’s semi-autobiographical graphic novel, the film can most be commended for retaining the comic book’s original graphic style. In this animated feature, the sharp black and white lines of pen on ink drawings is preserved, resulting in a relatively expressive visual palette. The plot of the movie is considerably less inspired. It concerns a young girl who comes of age as Iran passes from the Shah’s rule into an era of supposed freedom. Laced with bitterness, the film at least starts with some discernible thesis, examining how a girl channels her confusion caused by a world she couldn’t understand into flights of fancy. In various scenes, she annoys her parents by defending the Shah’s birthright, attacks a former friend whose father was found to be a murderer, and renounces an avuncular God who she visualizes as her personal playmate. By the time she grows to be an adult, though, and the movie perplexingly continues to trudge onward, her tendency toward internalization becomes downright disturbing, and the movie begins to feel remarkably self-absorbed.


As Persepolis tries to adapt its freewheeling, fancy-free style to Satrapi’s very adult problems, it begins to falter miserably. The bold, but plain, graphic design which was initially enchanting, begins to wear on the eyes, since no new visual tricks are revealed. One begins to wonder what the purpose is in showing that a child can’t comprehend the political maneuverings that accompany a political revolution if the adult that she’s become seems scarcely more savvy. Worse yet, some of the boldest moments from the graphic novel (violent depictions of torture, a brief stint as a drug runner, a suicide) have been excised here, presumably making for easier audience consumption. The effect is the feeling that we’re getting homogenized anecdotes instead of an unvarnished, warts and all exploration of personal and national identity. With the political message of Persepolis considerably softened, the overall effect is dulled significantly. The film ultimately comes off as a well-intentioned, but entirely superficial, affirmation of our willingness to believe in universal blandness. Any idiosyncratic impulses here begin and end with the movie’s visual stylization. Any hard won personal insight Satrapi had to offer is squandered.



Jeremy Heilman