Dir: Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is not your average coming of age story. Adapted from her graphic novel of the same name, this is Marjane Satrapi’s account of her childhood in Iran amid the backdrop of the Islamic revolution in the country and her own burgeoning sense of displacement and rebellion. She listens to disco and then Iron Maiden, embracing a western culture purged in her own world but allowed by her more liberal parents and grandmother. As she gets older, she begins to rebel in different ways, holding hands with boys outside of marriage and helping her parents to purge their apartment of alcohol before the state police can find it.
The bones of the story are great as a fan of memoir and there is much to love in the film. Satrapi’s lead is very sweet and she captures some wonderfully pertinent and identifiable moments of youthfulness. There’s a particularly relatable moment when she fickly changes her political views as a youngster after listening to different opinions. Her moments too with Iron Maiden are really nicely played and a sense of warmth towards the character is nurtured. The animation is fantastic, capturing the playful naivety of another great French animated movie, Belleville Rendezvous, if never escaping into the fantastical.
The problem with Persepolis, and I would stress that I did really like the film overall, is that it lacks a real emotional punch to elevate it to a really memorable level. The film is very sweet and contains some moving moments but nothing that really catches hold and stays in the memory. Part of this issue comes from Satrapi being somewhat postmodern about her recollections. The montage scene where she warbles ‘Eye of the Tiger’ feels forced and out of place with the rest of the film which seems to be teetering on the edge of realism. That realism exists in the story but it’s never fully explored. Another problem is the concentration on Satrapi. Although she does act as a nice representation of modern Islamic female progressionism, she isn’t really an enormously interesting character. Spending more time with some of the peripheral characters, notably her sparky grandmother, would’ve paid dividends in allowing the audience to understand her life and the people around her.
As a whole though, it’s a sweet and well-rendered piece that just maybe lacks the wallop I felt it wanted to give.