Persepolis is a beautifully animated film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. It’s a story about a young Iranian woman growing up and coming of age in Tehran and Vienna, and, as other people have pointed out, one of its greatest strengths is that isn’t trying to be ‘the story of Iran’ rather it’s the story of one particular Iranian living through what can only be described as ‘interesting times’.
There is some helpful historical context provided early on in the film, through the medium of an explanation given to the young Marji by her father. Between the light-hearted animation and the framing device of explaining to a small child keeping things succinct and simple, keeps the context from feeling all clunky and exposition heavy. (For years I used to complain that I had a better understanding of world news as a small child watching Newsround – it’s a BBC childrens’ news show – than I did as an adult watching ‘proper news’, only for one of my media lecturers to recommend we watched it for a good introduction to issues we didn’t understand.) Instead we get enough to understand the context of the changes in Iranian society that form the background to Marji’s story.
I watched the film in the French language version, I hear good things about the English language dub (the DVD I have even promotes the cast of that dub on the cover rather than the original) and everything I’ve seen and read about it indicates that if you like that sort of thing it’s a good dub, but the voices just didn’t seem right to me in English. Related to that there were a couple of moments of dissonance between the French dialogue and the English subtitles, most noticeably at one point when Marji’s father responds to something with a dispirited ‘Merde’ the subtitles said ‘Oh no’ which amused me somewhat, so I would say that at least a little is being lost in translation there.
I think the first half of the film worked best for me, I enjoyed the second half, but it was the first half, before she leaves for Vienna that grabbed me the most. Probably because I have a soft spot for big historical events seen through the eyes of children. I particularly enjoyed the animation during the scenes from Marji’s childhood, stylistically the animation managed to balance the fantastical with the horrible without either element feeling overdone. My favourite scenes were the ones between Marji and her uncle Anouche, whether in her parents home or later in the prison cell, there is a tenderness and affection to their interactions that justifies the lasting impact his brief involvement in her life brings.