Film Review: Persepolis
R. Rosen went to see Persepolis, a film based on the comic strip about the experiences of a young women during the Iranian revolution and the years that followed.
The film Persepolis is incredible, but I expected nothing less owing to how much I loved the comic. It's also a work that can't be separated from the present political context.
It's the story of Marjane Satrapi, the daughter of bourgeois Iranian intellectuals. Many of her family members are communists, including some who have been imprisoned for their opposition to the Shah's rule. When massive street protests break out in Tehran, they see it as a sign that they'll finally be free of a cruel dictatorship. Obviously, the revolution doesn't go so well, and the story shifts to a bright, independent young Marjane struggling to survive under a brutally misogynistic theocracy.
The film is visually stunning. It breathes life into the beautiful drawings from the comic. It's so rare to see traditional animation on the big screen these days.
It's also very funny. But it's a tragic humor, because the story is basically one horrific event after another, so you laugh, you let your guard down, and then Satrapi delivers a gut-punch.
The context is the U.S. wants a war with Iran and within the West, there's an agenda at work that decides which stories about Muslims—particularly about Muslim women—get told and which do not.
Satrapi's politics are progressive, which sets her apart from the other famous Muslim women—Norma Khouri, Nonie Darwish, Irshad Manji—who could be called neo-con mouthpieces. But I was worried that her story could be theoretically used for propaganda purposes.
Having seen the movie, I'm reassured. The film is as scathing towards Western capitalism as it is to the Iranian theocracy, both in terms of how the West thwarted attempts at building democracy in Iran and armed Iran and Iraq against each other, and also in terms of Satrapi's own story of falling apart, and eventually ending up homeless, in Vienna. At one point, her boyfriend suggests fleeing Iran for Europe. She replies that in Iran they're repressed, but in Europe, they don't care if you starve to death on the streets.
If anything, it's a powerful argument against the neo-con agenda. Only the most deeply racist and ideologically blinded could watch the scenes of Tehran getting bombed and think, "Hey, this is a force for liberation!" It's the antithesis of the "FEAR IRAN" bollocks that you see on the news. It's a very human story about resistance, personal and collective, to oppression. It's deeply subversive, even if much of the broader political context doesn't appear through Satrapi's first person narrative.
My one big criticism of the film it that it's Persepolis I and II condensed into one movie. But if my largest criticism of a movie is "it should have been twice as long," that's the kind of criticism that should make you want to run out and see it.