Persepolis: Youth Amid Revolution

Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s new film about growing up in revolutionary Iran is as poignant as it is heartbreaking. The movie is lovingly crafted and remains true to Satrapi’s original vision first seen in her two-volume work of the same name, Persepolis.

The movie focuses on a young Marji as she grows up in a rapidly changing Iran in the 70s and 80s and struggles to find her identity in a country she no longer understands and in a world that has ceased to understand her.

The film is also a subtle yet urgent reminder of Iran’s modern history. We are given a firsthand account of the change from peaceful republican monarchy to the radical yet orthodox theocratic republic that we know today.

Throughout these changes Marji struggles to reconcile her childhood fantasies with often gruesome and ever-growing realities of life. These internal struggles take the form of dialogues between Marji and God wherein she tries to make sense of her rapidly changing world.

Marji also relies heavily on her grandmother for emotional and spiritual support. She is Marji’s connection to Persia – to the grandeur of what once was and the potential of what could be again.

Satrapi’s simple artistic style often belies the weight of the emotions her characters carry. And for such simple drawings, their range of emotions is impressive. From the understated grief of a father who has to send his daughter away to the wholesale grief of a wife whose husband has been killed by her own government, Persepolis is filled with humble images that evoke both sympathy and outrage.

The film succeeds for the same reason the graphic novels do: it’s not afraid to show the embarrassing parts. Originally written as a memoir, Satrapi choose to tell her most painful and uncomfortable memories as the price she would pay to speak the truth about life in Iran and have it understood.

Beyond all of the politics of the film, it is about growing up alone, in an unknown culture you had no say in creating, and managing to find your own way in the world. It is about finding out what is important to you and gathering the courage to act on it. Ultimately, the message is to love yourself enough to love the world back.