© Prokino (FOX)

France/U.S.A. 2007

Opening 22 Nov 2007

Directed by: Vincent Paronnaud
Writing credits: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Principal actors: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux, Simon Abkarian, Gabrielle Lopes Benites

Marja grows up in Tehran with her well-educated, left-wing parents. Her warm-hearted but firm grandmother encourages her to be fearless and true to herself. This is not always easy for a girl in the middle of a revolution. The Shah falls in 1979 and the family celebrates. The freedom does not last long and soon things go badly. Schools and universities are closed down. Marja is a little 10-year-old girl who is required to wear a head-scarf. When joining a protesting demonstration with her mother, they are molested by fundamentalist thugs. Her mother wards them off with a firm and fearless attitude. (Director Marjane Satrapi surprises with sharp and witty dialog in very serious situations. Even in anger or fear, the love for her country, and particularly for her family, comes through strongly.)

But times are dangerous, the Iran-Iraq war is looming. Tehran becomes a target for scud missiles. Marja's domestic’s young son, like many underclass youngsters, is drawn to the front with false promises such as a golden (plastic) key to heaven. They are thrown into fighting and misused as mine fodder. One macabre scene depicts flying bodies clutching their keys, while back in the city Marja and her educated friends are wildly dancing to the latest western records bought on the black market. As the war escalates, Marja is sent to Vienna where she can complete her schooling in a Catholic convent. She does not fit in, missing her family and enduring lonely years before returning to Iran. Here she does not fit in either any longer. Life has become restricted and controlled by the Islamic State. Maybe marriage helps? She tries that, only to be more frustrated. Marja has to come to terms with her inner turmoil. She has serious arguments with God and heated discussions with her beloved grandmother. In the end her independent spirit wins, and she decides to go back to Europe once more, but this time taking the plane to Paris. 

After successfully publishing comics and children’s books, this is Marjane Satrapi’s first film (script and director), for which she joined forces with Vincent Paronnaud. The film is based on her memoirs Persepolis, drawn in stark, expressive black and white pictures reminding you of wood-cuts. This graphic novel is something new in an art form and could be described as a stylised realism, not like any other cartoon but instead showing figures with smooth gestures and realistic voices, highlighted with a very impressive soundtrack. Original music is by Olivier Bernet with the sound produced by Thierry Lebon. A wonderfully funny performance is Marja’s wild dance to the blaring music “Eye Of The Tiger”. I am not necessarily a great fan of cartoons, but within minutes I was totally involved in the film and had forgotten that I was watching a “comic”. The story is absolutely riveting and draws you in, involving the viewer even more than a normal movie could have done.

The original film version is in French, and for the voices Satrapi managed to cast the crème de la crème of French cinema: Chiara Mastroianni is Marja as a teenager and young woman and Catherine Deneuve speaks the role of her mother (as she is in real life). The role of her wonderful grandmother is taken by the legendary Danielle Darrieux, and Simon Abkarian is her father Ebi. At the 2007 Cannes Film Festival the film was given a standing ovation by the audience. (Birgit Schrumpf)

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