Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical coming-of-age graphic novel Persepolis has been expertly adapted to screen by the author and graphic artist Vincent Paronnaud. The dubbed English language version features the voices of real-life mother and daughter Chiara Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve as the rebellious Iranian daughter and her mum.
The largely black-and-white 2-D animation replicates the style used in the graphic novel and is a pleasant cinematic surprise in an era dominated by CGI. Indeed, the recent Disney and Pixar announcement that in future their films will be made in 3D is a further death knell for this fine cinematic form. Here, without the intervention of 3D, the animation seems to pop out from the screen, most notably in a sequence that sees little Marji bop along to the Rocky theme ‘Eye of the Tiger’. The cartoon images make the story that starts in 70s Iran more accessible to contemporary Western audiences while also adding to the comic tone of the narrative. It’s unlikely that an actor would have been able to create the same feelings of affection for the central character as these pencil lines.
The brutal honesty and humour with which the story is told is admirable. The action starts in 1978 when Marji is eight. As the Islamic Revolution changes the face of Iran, Marji’s liberal outlook, including a love of punk music and boys, is at odds with the increasingly conservative edicts of the new government. As she gets into spots of bother, 14-year-old Marji is sent by her parents to live with a relative in Austria. Contrary to expectations these are the unhappiest days of her life as the teenager discovers boys and suffers feelings of alienation. It speaks volumes about the ideology of the film that 1980s Austria seems more foreign to European sensibilities than 80s Iran. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions but rather than wallow in self-pity, the picture always manages to find the comedy in even the darkest situations. Such is the entertainment value that it’s easy to overlook the political undertones and humanist message, Satrapi portrays a love of Iran without being revisionist or disguising any harsh truths about the regime. This is an exceptional and exceptionally moving piece of animated filmmaking.
Selected release from Fri 25 Apr.