Persepolis is an elegantly simple work of art based on two graphic novels written and drawn by Marjane Satrapi in which she recounts her life growing up in Tehran before and after the overthrow of the Shah. For such a complex story, it's amazing how clean the animation and the storytelling is. The graphic novel reached the levels few attempt and even fewer attain. I'm talking about comparing it to Maus, the only graphic novel to have won a Pulitzer. Now we get the film, which follows the two books closely, and succeeds on every level. I continue to hear from thickheaded moviegoers who argue that animation is only for children, yet they'd never give a film like this or Grave of the Fireflies a chance. It's a shame, really, these stories document very personal accounts told during times of human tragedy on a massive scale almost impossible to comprehend. With Grave of the Fireflies, it was the firebombing of Japan during WWII. With Persepolis, it's the fall of the Shah, the Iran-Iraq War and the continuing oppressive societal environment for women that, by all accounts, continues to exist today.
Within this framework, we follow the Satrapi family raising their young daughter, Marjane, or "Marji." She's a precocious kid that digs Bruce Lee and rock 'n roll, her mother, father and grandmother and she likes to ask questions. Like all kids she doesn't understand when to stop asking questions as if in some never ending run-on sentence, and never stops to think that those questions or her statements might have consequences, not just for her, but for her family. After Marji contradicts her teacher one time too many, her mother and father decide to send her to study in Vienna. The Satrapi family have already lost family and friends to the government. The mother reminds the father, that because it's illegal to execute virgins, if Marji is arrested and sentenced to death, she will be married off to a guard who will take her virginity, and then they will execute her. The story line sounds dark and oppressive, but is told through the innocent eyes of Marji, who sometimes understands the whirling, ever-changing winds of history taking place around her, and often times does not.
So little Marji, who wore a "Punks Not Ded" jacket in Tehran, is sent off to Vienna, where she struggles with her need for family and friends, her schooling, and her inevitable development into a young woman. Frustrated with the life she attempts to make over the years, she finally decides to return to her family and back to a homeland she barely recognizes. As a woman raised to think for herself by an educated family it becomes almost immediately obvious that the difficult and dangerous issues Marji faced as a child continue to follow her as she attends college in Tehran. Finally coming to terms with herself and her surroundings, the character of Marji follows in her creators' footsteps and moves (or is it flees?) to France where she eventually created the graphic novel that was the basis for the film.
The film was selected by France as its entry for Best Foreign Language film for the Academy Awards. Though, in a brain-dead move, the Academy passed over the film, and instead nominated it for the Best Animated Feature category. That Persepolis deserves to win in whatever category it finds itself in is a no-brainer; that it feels like a slight, and that the Animated Category is a sort of consolation category to the real competition taking place for so-called "serious" international fare, is an indication of just how far the Academy still has to go to be serious and relevant to the cultural and political discussions taking place around the world today.