I could have sworn there was a thread for this wonderful film. Was it lost? Or am I just imagining it? In any case, if there was one, I'd appreciate this thread being merged.
"Persepolis" is a persuasive reminder of struggles still remnant in the Middle East with Iran taking centrestage during these times of dangerous rhetoric. The blossoming political consciousness of a young girl is dutifully evinced in Marjane Satrapi's (co-directed by Vincent Paronnaud) feature animation adapted from an autobiographical graphic novel by Satrapi, an Iranian exile in France. She tells her story with an uncommon grace, an elegant emotional journey fraught with the bittersweet remembrance of youth and the aching longing for her heritage left behind in Tehran, and her formative years with a loving and progressive family.
Satrapi invokes post 9/11 prejudices and the collision of cultural norms with the colour-laden opening sequence set in an airport where she waits for a flight as a grown woman in her traditional headscarf and a cigarette in hand, cognisant of the suspicious looks she receives from those around her. The film's framing device takes shape as a monochromatic flashback is constructed into 1978 Iran, where eight-year-old Marjane Satrapi is obliviously practicing her "Enter the Dragon" routine, right smack in the middle of collective vigilance, in a country on the verge of an inevitable clash between liberal modern secularism and oppressive religious tyranny. A quick history lesson tells of the deposed Shah's suppressive rule giving way to an even more fundamentalist regime under the ayatollah. Regardless of the social turmoil unfolding around the neighbourhoods, the playgrounds and her apartment, Marjane lives her childhood, with the kinship of her fiercely spirited family, as happily as she possible can.
This is the film's strongest segment in its bifurcated narrative, which further bleeds into Marjane's adolescence and personal upheavals. The scenes with her as a child are a joy to witness as we see how her burgeoning ideas are moulded from an unbridled imagination and the intellectual stimulation that her immediate environments now offers her as she starts forming vital (but often times flawed) opinions and observations of people around her, including those who she would never again see. As her childhood wanes, Satrapi wistfully looks back at her naiveté as a time of not mere transition, but as a time of implicit obligation, as the burden of state-enforced tradition forces a change of perception when her mother and grandmother are subjugated against their will to adhere to patriarchal conservatism by donning pitch-black veils that mask not just their faces, but their identities in its most personal sense.
The film's starkly vivid aesthetics are in contrast to the rich emotions extrapolated from Satrapi's narration. The adherence to hand-drawn animation is congruent to one of the film's core themes of recalling the past while marching forward to a future by pushing the antiquated technique to innovative and expressionistic tableaus, and in the process finds a sort of freedom in its austerity that offers its intimate narrative fluidity as it traverses 30 years of personal and political history with nary a blip.
As Satrapi confronts her past, the monuments of history in Tehran start to pale in comparison to individual epiphanies and personal revolutions through different times and places. And one of the grand truths of "Persepolis" is that growing up, the quintessential coming-of-age story we all eventually tell is by and large a trial by fire. It is a time when we are unsure of who we are supposed to know, or what we are supposed to be, and even wary of whether we want what we are supposed to want.
"Persepolis" eschews idealism for a tentative sense of identity in an increasingly tumultuous world, the transposing of personal demons and the roots that hark back to Satrapi despite various dislocations. She configures the landscape of political upheaval to a distinctively personal voice. It's an unsentimental c'est la vie, a stirring dictum of finding a foothold wherever we land and never letting go what freedoms we come into the world with.