'Persepolis' Tells The Story Of Growing Up During The Islamic Revolution ... With 'Laughing'

Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel has been adapted into a black-and-white animated flick.

OK, so it's in French, it's black and white and it's animated — but don't let that scare you from seeing "Persepolis," the film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel.

Unlike so many other comics-turned-movies, this one is not only true to the spirit of the original work, but the author is actually one of the filmmakers, because (also unlike so many other comics) this one is based on a true story: her story.

"To tell the story of the everyday life of a little girl in Iran gives you the opportunity to live through the Islamic Revolution and show a little bit what Iranians are like, and not just a caricature," said Chiara Mastroianni, who voices the part of Marjane in the film. "And laughing is a really subversive way to pass ideas on through people."

In the book and the film, Marjane shows what her life was like in Tehran, starting when she was about 6 years old, when the Shah's regime was overthrown in 1979. At first her liberal parents rejoice — surely this must mean the dawning of a new age. But religious fundamentalists turn their lives upside down. Marjane goes from attending a modern French nonreligious school that taught boys and girls together to being told that bilingual, coeducational schools are symbols of Western decadence and that she has to start wearing a veil.

Marjane and her classmates try to thwart the ever-increasing rules and restrictions, buying black-market albums — anything they can get their hands on, from ABBA to Iron Maiden — and she finds her own style, wearing jeans, sneakers and a jacket that proclaims, "Punk Is Not Ded" [sic]. It might seem like a small way to rebel, but it carried a big price if and when the Guardians of the Revolution took notice; she could be whipped and detained for days — or worse. Not that it stopped her.

"It's a question of human nature," Satrapi said. "When they forbid it, you want it. I thought discotheques were the worst places in the world, but when it's forbidden, it becomes a paradise, just like how never in the history of America did people drink as much as they did during Prohibition. It's the same thing."

With her uncle executed for speaking out against the government and the country at war with Iraq, Marjane's parents worry that her boldness will only get more pronounced as she becomes a teen, so they send her out of the country for the rest of her education at age 14. In Vienna, young love backfires on her, so to be close to her family, she goes home, only to find she doesn't belong in Iran anymore.

"I don't think you have to have experienced any of this to relate to it," Satrapi said. "It's a very universal, humanistic story — how you grow up, what changes you face as you grow up, how it feels to be in exile."

The story's universality is what attracted her predominately French team of filmmakers, illustrators, tracers and voice talent — which includes Mastroianni's mother, Catherine Deneuve, as the voice of Marjane's mother.

"It's an unusual story," Deneuve said. "It's so personal and so original and so strong — so simple and so strong at the same time. And I think anybody can relate to the fear that you're being abandoned," which is how Marjane feels when she's shipped off to school in Vienna.

"If you don't have control over your life, how else do you react?" asked co-director Vincent Parannaud.

Satrapi insists the film isn't a political statement — though politics are weaved in and out of it, such as when her 6-year-old self brightens up at the thought that her uncle might be a communist or when she marches around chanting, "Down with the Shah!" before bedtime. "We're just asking the questions," she said. "We don't answer them. We're not politicians or preachers."

But if coaxed, Satrapi will offer this: Her one wish, if she could change anything, would be to stop "this very simplistic idea that the world is divided between East and West, Muslim and Christian. If there is one division in the world, it's between the stupid guy and the intelligent guy — it stops there," she said. "And the stupid guy is international and everywhere. If people could understand that, that is the beginning of a big change."

Check out everything we've got on "Persepolis."

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