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VINE VOICEon June 26, 2008
"Persepolis" is an animated film based on Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel of the same name about her childhood in Tehran during the last Iranian revolution and coming of age after emigrating to Vienna. It is an extraordinarily ordinary story about an average woman coming to terms with herself and with the world around her. Did I say "average woman"? My bad. I meant dynamic, charming, intelligent, and fiercely individualistic. Ms. Satrapi's story is among the finest works ever animated and bestows upon the viewer the endless virtues of knowledge, a broadened mind, and a true perspective on humanity. "Persepolis" will break your heart, make you smile and laugh out loud, cheer, possibly sing, and restore your faith in humanity. The fact that this was passed over for an Oscar in favor of yet another mediocre Pixar effort (about a rat that controls a chef by pulling his hair, no less) is the ultimate proof positive that that award (or any other, really) has no merit whatsoever.

Young Marji walks down the street to the place where shady characters reside. As she passes each bootlegger, they whisper the names of the forbidden fruit they possess. "Lipstick" whispers one, "Jichael Mackson" mispronounces another. She continues on until she hears what she wants: "Iron Maiden". She quickly negotiates a price and makes off with her prize just as a group of overbearing religious figures tower over her. They have taken issue with her shoes: plain sneakers. Marjie insists they are for basketball, but another spots her Michael Jackson patch, a symbol of American greed. Then the coup-de-gras; she has "punk is not dead" scrawled across the back of her outfit. Thinking fast, Marjie bursts into tears, sobbing lies about her parents having died in the war with the Iraqis and a cruel guardian who will burn her with an iron if they turn her in. Safely back at home, having tricked the local oppressive religious posse, the young girl grabs a tennis racket as a guitar and bangs her head to the sweet, hard-earned reward of heavy metal. The scene then segues -music still rocking- to the frontlines of the war where the new Iranian Islamic rulers are sending young men unarmed to rush the Iraqi army, acting as human shields/martyrs. Their parents are rewarded by the government for their sons' sacrifices with little plastic keys which are promised to open the door to Heaven for their dead children. Such are the complications of everyday life in Iran at this time. The duality of these scenes speaks a lot for the power and message of this film. But while there is highly enlightening political commentary and historical information to be found here, the focus is on the everyday life and struggles of our protagonist with the horrors of her surrounding often being downplayed.

The animation is minimalist art of the highest stylistic brilliance. The endearing nature of Marjie and her family is only highlighted by the ultra-simplistic black and white pencil-and-paper artwork. All of the CG in the world could not improve on this film in any way; the focus is on story, characters, and stylistic integrity, as it should be. The film's philosophies run deep and broad, ranging from harsh commentaries on authority to harsh commentary on purposeless counterculture. Wisdom comes from Marjie's grandmother, from her imaginary chats with God, and her memories of her communist uncle. These are life lessons about integrity, prudence, and acceptance that one should always carry with them and produce many, many quotable quotes.

Do not think for a second that this film is all about heaviness of spirit and preachiness. No, no, no, no; nothing could be further from the truth. Ms. Satrapi is a brilliant social satyrist who fills "Persepolis" with pointed jokes, lighthearted moments, and heartwarming charm while pointing out that at heart, we are all the same. There is a time in Marjie's life where she becomes a lifeless, jaded cynic unable to do anything but watch TV and let life pass her by. Then one day, she wakes up angry again. The result is a musical montage that will likely make you laugh hysterically or jump out of your seat to sing along. Possiby both. This is just that kind of film. Throw in some animated love for Godzilla,Bruce Lee, and Terminator 2 and I am beyond sold.

The DVD has a few behind-the-scenes special features that show us the woman herself at work. Having already fallen in love with her animated doppelganger, seeing the vivacious Marjane Satrapi made flesh is a real treat. We get a view of the old-school animation processes and are able to watch Ms. Satropi act out different characters for the animators to see. This is nearly as much fun as the movie itself. Wonderful feature.

This is a near-perfect film that I would recommend to anybody who isn't going to run away from a mostly black and white animated film with subtitles. And if you are: well, enjoy your life of closed-minded cinematic ignorance. "Persepolis" is a revelation whose duty is to entertain us while reminding us just how good we have it and simultaneously educating us about a culture and history few in the West have made any attempt to understand. Ms. Satropi's insisted that this story be animated and not filmed for this reason: animated characters are more universally identifiable. Set a film in Iran and fill it with Iranians and you have an ethic film that many will subconsciously refuse to identify with. But with animation, all things are possible; even bridging a gaping cultural divide. But at it's heart, this is a film about the enthusiam of youth, the hardships of adulthood, and the triumph of personal integrity. Do not miss this.
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on January 9, 2008
Every once in a while a great revelation comes in cinema... and we have one here!

Based on the graphic novels The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, this 90 minute film is a superb translation of the original source material. The heavily stylized black and white cartoon is very powerful yet remains simple in it's universal emotional core. The charming little girl we are introduced slowly grows up to be a defiant woman in a place that is not for her. As we go along with the journey characters come and go, but the threat of Marjane's story never becomes weak, every plot point makes an impact. The melancholy score and spirited rendition of Eye of the Tiger add a wonderful layer to the whole experience.

This film is a breath of fresh air in this cynical age of high concept mega tent-pole films. For Iranians, it's a bittersweet journey home, and for Americans... a great chance to see that Iranians are not the monsters portrayed in the never ending game of politico.

A magnificent black and white film for an era of oh so gray problems.
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Marjane Satrapi, lives with her parents (voiced by Catherine Deneuve and Simon Abkarian) in Iran during the difficult times leading up to and from the removal of the Shah. Marjane frequently spends time with her grandmother (voiced by Danielle Darrieux) who bristles at the new restrictions placed on women. As Marjane (voiced by Chianni Mastrianni) grows up, she learns about new things, including rock music, and wears band t-shirts under her traditional dress, attends parties to make out with boys, and has remarkable luck staying one step ahead of the police. Eventually, things become so bad in Iran, and everyone realizes Marjane will never reach her full potential there, that she is sent to live in Vienna. Later, she returns, heartbroken, and can't handle the religious and political pressures placed on the young people of her generation. She eventually immigrates to France.

Strangely, what I have just described is the synopsis for the new animated film "Persepolis". This new film from France has been winning many awards and garnering a lot of attention. Even more strangely, Marjane Satrapi bases it on semi-autobiographical graphic novels. The idea alone is enough to garner the project attention, but the end result is very good, giving us a fascinating look at the life of one girl who grew up in a difficult time, in a difficult place, and chose a fairly unique way to tell her story.

Satrapi's drawing style is eye-catching. Seemingly very simplistic, she catches a lot of detail by showing the pattern on a dress, for example, to make the drawing seem more significant than a simple black and white line drawing. Throughout, she captures little details like this, allowing us to get a glimpse of what life was like in this tumultuous part of the country's history.

Satrapi and her co-director Vincent Paronnaud, have adapted the unique look of Satrapi's graphic novels to this film. I am glad the people backing this film gave her the freedom to retain this unique visual look, rather than try to use CGI or more realistic animation. In a way, this more simplistic style lends itself better to the tone and scope of the story. Yes, there are a lot of larger things happening around her, but the story is about Marjane and her family, and needs to remain fairly intimate. Because the filmmakers stick with the style originated by Marjane, probably be at home in a newspaper comic strip, the film seems to convey Marjane's plight in a more realistic way.

I have read Marjane has been very influenced by Italian Neorealism and German Expressionism and this is very evident in her drawing style. As Marjane hears stories of other family members, the drawings take on the appearance of woodcuts, moving in a stilted, jangled fashion. These moments also help to reinforce the romantic nature a child would give to these horrific events. Stories become fairy tales to young boys and girls, so Marjane is unable to realize the events being described are real or dangerous, and gives them a romantic, daring edge while they are scaring her. There is an old silent animated film called "The Adventures of Prince Achmed". In this film, the characters are all paper cuts and the animation is done by moving these figures every frame or so. This style is so closely related to fairy tales it is almost impossible to think of anything else when you see it.

The film is also largely composed in black and white, with brief moments of color at the beginning and end. These moments help to highlight the fact the bulk of the story is a remembrance, a dream of a time past. All of these choices are the right choices and help to make this story right, giving us a real feel for what Marjane experienced growing up in this environment.

As Marjane gets older, she becomes more rebellious and more daring. She buys bootleg copies of her favorite rock musicians, wears a Michael Jackson button underneath her traditional Muslim wear, and attends parties with boys. But all of these things are strictly forbidden and she and her friends have to be teenagers in a fairly clandestine environment, adding an element of danger to the evening.

As Marjane gets older, she also begins to question authority and lash out at the people in charge. These activities coincide with the growing unrest in their country, and the government's increased efforts on cracking down on these same activities. Her parents realize the country will only get worse before it gets better, so they arrange for Marjane to live in Vienna. With this newfound freedom, Marjane goes a little wild and finds it difficult to live with her host family.

She eventually returns to Iran, a more confident, headstrong, rebellious woman. As she grows, so does the crackdown imposed by the government and things are worse than ever. But life in Vienna also beat Marjane down a bit and she returns a bit defeated, a bit worse for wear. She tries to live up to the ideals imposed by the government, and becomes depressed by having so many civil liberties taken away. A well-timed conversation with her grandmother leads her to take the next step and move to Paris, leaving her family behind.

"Persepolis" is almost instantly engaging; the style of animation and the portrayal of a young Marjane draw the viewer into this world. As Marjane grows, we learn about this country, it's struggles, and more importantly Marjane's struggles to live in such a place. And during the final moments of the film, "Persepolis" is a very moving film; the intimate story has really given us a feel for Marjane, her parents and her grandmother, and their struggles. As we watch Marjane leave all of this behind, for a new life, it is very difficult to feel anything but moved.

The most amazing thing about "Persepolis" is that it is more real, more touching and more emotional than most other films. And it is animated.
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Marjane Satrapi presents the first part of her autobiographical series, based on the graphic novel of the same name. For those of you who haven't read the book, this movie has little in the way of plot - well, that's true of most people's lives. Instead, the fascination comes from the movie's sense of reality. Marji starts as a precocious and sometimes scary little girl of six or so, and matures into her early twenties as we watch. She gives some idea of what a child sees in the blast rubble that used to be a neighbor's house (and what used to be the neighbor). When she attends school, we see her as the permanent outsider, among but never truly of her peers' society. Then, when she returns to her family in Teheran, she brings her European sensibility into a nation teetering on the edge of repressive theocracy. She has become a stranger in her own country and family, and maybe in her own life.

A few things leap out at a Western viewer. One might be Marjane's intense political awareness, from a very early age. It makes sense, though. She's a grand-daughter very few generations away from someone who ruled Iran, then was overthrown a handful of overthrows ago. In a nation where clan feuds recall events hundreds of years back, that puts her practically on the front line, even as a child. Her family name, Satrapi, long ago entered the English language as "satrap," a mid-eastern ruler. No wonder she went to sleep with bedtime stories of her uncle's imprisonment and torture.

The other striking feature of this movie is its stark visual style. People are simple line drawings, with blocky black or white patches for clothing. Backgrounds generally resemble ink wash on a rough-surfaced watercolor paper. Color doesn't exist until the very last moment - perhaps a foreshadowing of a sequel to come, more than an actual part of this movie's narrative. The simplicity won't appeal to everyone. As much as I like animation and graphic novels, I have mixed feelings about it. Still, I can't imagine this plain, stark story being told in any visual idiom less plain and stark than the movie's. Somehow, it all blends perfectly into a coming of age story that leaves triteness behind in the political prisons or urban battlefields of Marjane's growing-up years.

-- wiredweird, reviewing the theatrical release.
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Hand-drawn animation, especially simple black-and-white drawings, is so rare to see on the big screen that one has to appreciate the emotional nakedness that Marjane Satrapi and her fellow cartoonist Vincent Paronnaud bring to this 2007 fictionalized memoir of Satrapi's formative years as the free-spirited daughter in a liberal Iranian family. The 95-minute film follows the same abstract style found in her best-selling autobiographical graphic novel, adding color for the present-day scenes and using a shadow theater approach to the historical sequences. The cumulative effect works well within the context of the story's volatile emotional changes as it alternates in quicksilver fashion between poignant, funny and harrowing. The film reminds me a bit of Mark Forster's adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, which also has a protagonist forced to live in exile due to the advent of war and tyranny. The difference is that Satrapi's family stayed in Tehran throughout the turmoil brought on by the Shah's overthrow, the oppressive fundamentalist regime that followed, and the Iran-Iraq war. Some of this comes across as a bit muddled, but the propulsive narrative drive and empathetic voice characterizations compensate greatly.

The plot flashes back to Marjane's childhood in Iran during the 1970's as she gradually begins to understand how her family has been mistreated and imprisoned due to their Communist leanings under the Shah. Once the Islamic Revolution deposes of the Shah in 1979, the family faces even more persecution by the new government. Forced to wear a burqa, Marjane has an escalating desire to express her individuality through listening to heavy rock music and questioning authority at every turn. During the 1980's, Marjane's parents decide to send their daughter to Austria to continue her education since Iran was becoming a political hotbed with the oncoming Iran-Iraq war promising even greater horrors. In he meantime, Marjane never fits into Viennese student life, and her situation worsens with a series of bad romantic relationships. She ends up on the streets, and her desperation becomes such that she returns home to Iran. Falling into a crevasse between Western and Eastern cultures, Marjane falls into a depression until she faces up to her true fate. What Satrapi and Paronnaud do especially well is make the animated Marjane's journey a universal one that gives personalized insights into the current challenges facing the Middle East.

The 2008 DVD offers both the original French and English-dubbed versions of the feature. The filmmakers recruited quite a cast of voices to inhabit the characters, including Chiara Mastroianni as Marjane, her mother Catherine Deneuve as Marjane's mother, and another legend, Danielle Darrieux as Marjane's feisty grandmother. Deneuve and Darrieux played mother-and-daughter in Jacques Demy's candy-coated musical, The Young Girls of Rochefort over four decades earlier. On the English version, Mastroianni and Deneuve repeat their roles, but Gena Rowlands takes over for Darrieux. There are several other extras on the DVD, the chief one being a half-hour documentary in French, "The Hidden Side of Persepolis", which gives a highly detailed look at the production process. Satrapi and Paronnaud are interviewed extensively, as are several crew members and both the 91-year-old Darrieux and Mastroianni (a dead ringer for her father Marcello). There are two other pieces - a brief short, "Behind-the-Scenes of Persepolis", which focuses primarily on the English dubbing process with Rowlands and Iggy Pop, and a half-hour press conference held at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival with Satrapi, Paronnaud, the film's producers, as well as Mastroianni and Deneuve. There is no full-length directors' commentary track, but three scenes have individual subtitled commentary - Satrapi on the opening scene in color, Mastroianni on the amusing "Eye of the Tiger" scene, and Paronnaud on the establishing shots of Vienna. Particularly interesting are five other scenes where we are shown the storyboards versus the final animation.
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VINE VOICEon July 2, 2008
Forget your stereotypes of Iranians. `Persepolis' is an engagingly funny, sad, and poignant look at Merjane (Margie) (Chiara Mastrorianni) a girl who grows up in Tehran during the 1980's. Despite our possible preconceptions, Merjane surprisingly sports addidas sneakers, eats French fries, and yearns to shave her legs. The movie provides an absorbing history lesson, showing us the close up ramifications of people's lives behind the headlines, and tells a captivating story about a girl trying to belong and survive under dire circumstances.

Until all the world changing events, Merjane lets us know, "I led a peaceful, uneventful life as a child." Within the family, Merjan's uncle is kindly, yet communist. He's probably seen enough dictatorships and knows of only one way out. His ordeal is documented well enough. The most supportive in the family is Merjane's grandmother (Daniell Darrieux), whose affection and wisdom go a long way. Her parents (Catherine Deneuve and Simon Abkarian) are also good people who yearn for freedom, but know how to keep Merjane's best interests above their own.

During the time, we get a first person perspective on the Shah of Iran, his rise to power, the unrest that led to his exile, and his subsequent replacement by Ayatolla Kohmeni while Saddam Hussein rose to power in Iraq. From the narrative and the played out scenes, we get the pedestrian view of how these events came into fruition and their implications in everyday lives. Later, the Iran-Iraq War is particularly unsettling for her entire country. For her safety, Merjan flees her country and settles into Austria where she develops not so close friendships with the "Out" group, seeking refuge in the punk rock/alternative scene. With Merjane telling her story we get an intimate and often comic take on the angst of adolescence as well as what it's like to be a foreigner who's mostly misunderstood or ignored. She returns to her own country and her family, but the changes have made her an alien in her own neighborhood. Knowing the origin of this film, you can probably guess what happens next...

The animation is unique and interesting. Reminded that this film garnered a nomination for Best Animated Movie Oscar*, the extras show the French artists creating the film one frame (or picture) at a time. Done mostly in black and white, the backgrounds are stylish, but mostly stagnant with the characters remaining flowing for every scene. Oddly, it is only during the transportation scenes (like when she's waiting at the airport) when we are given the full color treatment. Inevitably, it must be that hope colors her consciousness every time there's a new transition in her life. I have one objection: I didn't like all the body fluids presented. I thought they kept it real enough without having to show all of that. Ironically, the blood made a difference. We need it as evidence; it provides an unflinching detail of the ordeal(s) at hand and respects all the people involved.

Our funny bones are tickled several times as our colorful rebel resorts to splendid retorts to zealous extremists ("Girls who reveal themselves will burn in hell," says one educator), and we are served some truly funny thoughts about her body changes during puberty and the fallout of dating. 'Persepolis' has many simple joys entailed upon its viewing: A fascinating first-person history lesson, an absorbing story, and a splendid protagonist.

(Not since Art Spiegelman's groundbreaking 'Maus' have I seen a similar graphic novel treatment give this much of a wollop.)

*`Ratatouille' won the Oscar for Best Animated Film from 2007.
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on January 22, 2008
(The following review refers to the original French version.)

"Persepolis" is a French animation with a bitter-sweet story. It is about Marjane Satrapi (or "Marji"), only daughter to Iranian family living in Tehran. This is an autobiographical film that covers the life of Marjane Satrapi (who wrote the original graphic novels and also co-directed this film with Vincent Paronnaud) from the year 1978 when Marji was a 9-year-old girl who is a big fan of Bruce Lee. The time was just before the Revolution happens in Iran and Marji's coming-of-age story unfolds against the background of the modern Iranian history since then.

The fast-paced narrative of the film is brilliant, especially in the first half which shows the impact the Iranian Revolution gave to the ordinary people, all seen from the perspective of Marji (Chiara Mastroianni as teenager and adult). Marji's parents (voice by Simon Abkarian and Catherine Deneuve) welcome the big social changes at first, but soon start to fear as their acquaintances start to leave the country or just vanish. Then a war breaks out.

The film is historical and even political, but its story has also a personal aspect which would appeal universally. Marji slowly realizes what is going on around her after the Revolution, but naturally rebellious girl Marji no longer feels comfortable. Knowing that Marji talked back to her teacher at school, her worried parents (and they have to worry because they know the worst possible scenario waiting for her) decide to send her to Vienna. But still Marji senses that she does not belong to Europe either....

Episodic nature of the film may be a little disappointing to some viewers. Most of the European characters are unmemorable, compared with the colorful Iranian characters surrounding Marji, especially Marji's wise grandmother (voice by Danielle Darrieux) who is outstanding. Obviously Marji's story (real-life or fictional) is very large and the film's second half would be better with less episodes or the film needs more time to allow us to get emotionally involved with the story, its romantic part in particular.

Except three brief segments about the Paris airport, the film is shot in black and white, or I should say, black in combination of white and grey. The hand-drawn type animation creates the mood of each scene effectively with sparse soundtrack - sometime grim, sometimes funny and often beautiful (opening credit should not be missed).

"Persepolis" is a film about a life of a person. The person herself may not be perfect, but her story is universal.
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on June 25, 2008
Well.... As an Iranian woman (a bit younger than Marjan)I remember those days very well. It is a very accurate movie about that era. It brought me many sad memories from the time that Tehran was attacked by missiles. I was too young to remember the actual revolution and the street demonstrations and I have a very vague memory of the Shah's era, but I remember the war and the post war era. She draws a very accurate picture of the hidden parties in Iran, the alcohol consumptions in parties, the Islamic police, the secretive dates between boys and girls, the security guards in the airport etc..

The moral of the story is that Marjan had to immigrate from Iran for the second time (which was her last time) simply because she felt like a stranger in her motherland...She had to start her life all over again in another country. Iran was not her country any more... The same story happened to millions of Iranians who left Iran in some point after 1979 and now live in exile including myself.

This is a true story of the dreams that were shattered after the Islamic revolution...the families that were broken.... and the collapse of the most ancient civilizations on earth...It is the story of one of the biggest human tragedies in 20 century and the movie very cleverly shows that.
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on March 1, 2015
While animation is an art form primarily associated with children's entertainment, there are more than a few animated films which deal with more mature themes and are geared towards an older audience. PERSEPOLIS is one such film. Co-directed by Marjane Satrapi, who based this on her experiences as a young girl growing up in Iran, it tells a story about the struggle to find one's identity in a rapidly changing world. In Marjane's case, her formative years took place amid the chaotic years of the Islamic Revolution when the US-backed Shah was overthrown by populist revolt and an Islamic Republic established in its place. Even though communist revolutionaries, such as her uncle, were imprisoned under the Shah's rules, the Islamic Republic that replaced it was in some ways even more repressive. As a way of escaping this, Marjane is sent off to a French school in Vienna but she eventually comes back to her family after bad experiences leave her alone and almost destitute. Yet, the Iran she returns to is even more different than the one she grew up in and left before. Ultimately, this is a simultaneously complex and simple look at Iranian life through the eyes of a young woman. It's complex in the sense that Marjane has conflicted feelings about the country of her ancestors, yet simple because it is presented through the eyes of someone who has yet to find themselves. This film is based on a graphic novel, and the mostly black-and-white animation style reproduces this look faithfully while also adding a sense of childlike wonder. It was a simple, yet beautiful, way to tell an important story. I hesitate to say that Marjane's story is representative of all Iranians' experience, yet it is valuable precisely because it is a personal experience. The story of her life growing up is tragic and hopeful, sad and yet still not without humor. This rollercoaster of emotions and unique look at an oft misunderstood culture are the film's strongest selling points, aside from the top-notch animation and score. For viewers looking to expand their horizons a bit, PERSEPOLIS has everything you could possibly want from a great film: action, romance, tragedy, humor, etc. It has it all, and most importantly it provides unique cultural insight. Highly recommended.
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on March 23, 2016
I bought this after I heard what happened in the Paris attack. I watched it long time ago when I was a kid but didn't fully understand it - I just thought it was pretty cool. Now, 27, staying in the US as an international student from China, I kind of understand how she feels.
Although it is now hard to imaging, but Islamic countries like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan were once prospered with travelers, merchandises, and ordinary people like us. Women used to be able to reveal their beauty, youngsters used to hold hands on streets, and western music and business suits used to be considered a symbol of style and success. Trying to escape from the regime that constantly judging you and trying to change who you are, we are the same, the same, vonerable human.
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