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Just to clear up any confusion, although much of the story is set in Iran, the film was made in France and in the French language. That is because Satrapi and co-filmmaker Vincent Paronnaud both live in Paris, and Satrapi was educated in French schools. But ultimately her film attains a very universal appeal. For one thing, the animation style is simple and appealing. In adapting the graphic novels, Satrapi and Paranoud remain very faithful to the hand drawn style of the books. This is more like The Simpsons than say Frank Miller or Jim Lee. As with The Simpsons , the look of the animation never alienates you because the characters are cartoonish. They are drawn with thick black lines and with very rounded features and bodies. This makes them very accessible and doesn't lock them into one particular locale or into one ethnic group.

Persepolis (Sony Pictures Classics)

The animation is mostly black and white with a bit of color introduced. It's very low-tech when compared with the state of the art 3D, computer generated images of Ratatouille or Beowulf . But Persepolis has a distinct artistry all its own. The filmmaker employ variations in their stark black and white animation. For instance when Marjane's father recounts his version of how the Shah came to power, it is done like the cut-out shadow puppets. very stylized and with stilted dialogue. This is history but filtered through a personal perspective. For other scenes, Satrapi draws on such sophisticated influences as the German Expressionists and F.W. Murnau (director of the silent Nosferatu ). In scenes of the revolution and later of war, people are silhouettes and the landscape is full of sharp abstract designs. The images of war and fighting are striking in their stark simplicity and very effective in conveying the disturbing violence, loss of life and fear. But for scenes of the family, Satrapi says she drew on the Italian neo-realists for inspiration. That may sound odd but what's impressive about the film is that the performances are all very real and very human. If you were to close your eyes, the voices of the actors don't sound cartoonish, they sound like real people in real life. (But don't close your eyes because you'll miss the wonderful animation.


The characters are so rich and so human that they transcend the simple animation.The vocal performances also helps give the film universal appeal. Performers such as veteran actresses Catherine Deneuve (the mother) and Danielle Darrieux (the grandmother) are very engaging and commanding. As the teenage and young adult Marjane, Chiara Mastroianni (Deneuve's daughter in real life) also delivers a great vocal performance. As Marjane struggles with adolescent body changes, bad dating choices and surviving in a foreign country, Mastroianni finds humor and warmth in the experiences. The talented cast makes the film funny and at times genuinely powerful.

Marjane and her grandmother in Persepolis (Sony Pictures Classics)

In many ways the simplicity of the animation allows Satrapi to deal with complex and serious issues in a very accessible way. She doesnt trivialize anything yet she makes difficult ideas easier to deal with. In many ways she humanizes bigger political issues and personalizes them. She presents things like torture, oppression and war in a way that makes us open to exploring their complexities. When Marjane's uncle explains the kind of torture he was subjected to in prison, the graphic descriptions convey horror. Yet the young Marjane goes out the next day and explains the torture to her friends and they chase down a boy to "torture" him. The line between horror and humor here is thin and dangerous to navigate but the scene reveals how kids cope with things that can be unimaginable.

The film is also universal because Satrapi fills it with so much personal detail that you can't help but identify with something in her life. Her story reveals that despite different cultures, we share many things. We can identify with her family, with her difficulty fitting in at college, with her troubled romantic relationships. But she also gives us a unique perspective on Iran. Her insider's view lets us see the country in a new way so that we can begin to understand that iran is more than just its recent history. She also lets us see that not everyone inside her country is the same. This may sound like it's stating the obvious, but Iran is often painted in broad strokes by the West so seeing people like Marjane and her parents, helps to humanize the people within the country.

Persepolis (rated PG-13 and in French with English subtitles) is both enlightening and entertaining. It works so well because it is personal and uses very intimate details to tell one woman's story.


Companion viewing: West Beirut, The 400 Blows, Caramel, Nosferatu, Eight Women (in which Darrieux plays Denueve's mother)