Persepolis is a captivating animated story by an Iranian author, Marjane Satrapi. The film is based on Ms. Satrapi’s novel of the same name, who is also the main character and co-director, together with Vincent Paronnaud. It features a series of black and white animated pictures of the young girl, Marjane, who tells an emotional story of the tough times she endured as she became of age in Tehran, Iran during the Islamic revolution in the 1980s and 90s.
Persepolis begins in 1978 with the Tehran streets flooded with mass demonstrations in an effort to bring down the oppressive shah government. Before the Shah took over power, Marjane’s family is modern and secular and enjoys going out to parties and other social gatherings. When the Shah takes control, people can no longer go out, alcohol becomes illegal and is only transported in illegal containers. Like other people, Marjane’s family is optimistic about a change in the political atmosphere. And when the Shah government falls, Ayatollah Khomeini took over in 1979, but the democracy they hoped for does not come.
Through the eyes of this courageous and outspoken young girl, we see how a dictatorship government takes over and rules through oppression. People are wrongly imprisoned as children, and women are left in deplorable conditions. When Marjane’s uncle is ruthlessly executed, and the Iran/Iraq war escalates with bombings all over the region, thousands of lives lost, and people are filled with utter fear.
The young girl, voiced in French by Chiara Mastroianni, vividly illustrates her feelings and thoughts throughout the entire process. And when things head for the worse, Marjane’s mom (Catherine Deneuve) and dad (Simon Abkarian) fears that her temperament might put her in trouble and opts to send her to Vienna to study. But as a young teenage girl, separation from her family is emotionally draining. She struggles as she transitions into a young woman adjusting to her new life in freedom. She goes through an episode of personal conflicts as she tries to fit into the new lifestyle.
But there is plenty of humor, particularly from Marjane’s grandmother (Danielle Darrieux), through her advice, like when She puts fresh flowers in Marjanes’s bra each morning so that she smells fresh all day. She is portrayed as a daring, no-nonsense, and a natural rebel who perceives freedom as her birthright.
When she returns to Tehran, Marjane feels dislocated and goes through a tough time as she tries to rediscover her passion for life. She falls into a depression as she tries to readjust to Iranian laws, such as the strict restrictions on women’s clothing. And when she marries her boyfriend and moves out of the family home, the marriage fails. At the end of the film, it is in the early 1990s when she decides to move back to Europe the second time, and the young girl we met in 1978 is now a grown woman and recently divorced.