Review: Persepolis (Paronnaud & Satrapi, 2007)

Still from the movie Persepolis

My husband and I had been anticipating this film for some time now. It was one of those movies that had so much buzz around it when it came out and that we had always meant to watch, but something always came up, or we forgot, or it was unavailable. Anyway, we finally watched it this weekend.

Satrapi‘s animated autobiography, based on her graphic novel of the same name, is delightful, candid, touching. Everything that an entertaining film should be. There’s a bit of Modern Iranian History 101 thrown in, too (though I suspect she’s grossly oversimplified things for us). It was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar but ultimately lost to that year’s Pixar movie, Ratatouille.

The only problem is that I think I watched it too late. At this point, I’m a little tired of the same Western-oriented stories coming out about Iran, even if they’re from Iranian voices. I’m ready for a more penetrating look at what’s going on there: quiet stories that are not explicitly linked to tales of sexual, artistic, economic, or social repression or religious fanaticism. That’s why, as I’ve mentioned before, the movies of director Asghar Farhadi are so compelling to me. Besides being powerful films in their own right, they’re also very Iranian. By that I mean that they could hardly take place in any other country. Still, it is not the same old chant about the morality police and injustice against women, etc., not that those aren’t important depictions as well, only they coincide so nicely with our preconceived notions about the country and feed into our general froth and rage that I can’t help, at this juncture, to stand aside a little with eyebrow raised.

But back to Persepolis: It is impossible not to fall in love with this family. Spunky Marjane, her gentle father, principled uncle, tender mother, and unbelievable grandmother. Satrapi’s fondness for her family and embrace of its political struggle is the backbone of the film. You forgive the characters for being exceptional in an unexceptional way and, maybe because it’s an animation, it does not seem too unfitting that the movie keeps to its straightforward perspective, undiluted by doubt or sin. Was I a little disappointed? Inevitably. But I don’t blame Persepolis for that. Very few movies end up living up to the accolades they receive.

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