26 August 2022

52 for '22: Persepolis

Movie: Persepolis (2007)
Method: Netflix DVD

Why Did I watch this?

I don't remember when I read Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel, but it was definitely before the movie came out. Maybe 2005 or 2006. I recall being really excited about the movie since I dug the comic book a ton but for whatever reason it just didn't penetrate my Queue since I first put added it on January 16th, 2010. That's the deal with a lot of these movies, I feel like I had all my formative cinematic years in the late 2000s but I didn't actually see a ton of these movies. Some of them are definitely of their time and to be quite honest, I missed the boat, but others really stay with you. For the record, Persepolis stays with you.

What Did I know ahead of time?

For once, quite a bit. I had read the comic so I knew what the basic deal was. I forgot all of the exact intricacies of the plot because it had been nearly twenty years, but I knew that it was autobiographical, in a very distinctive flat art style, and centered on a young girl's experience growing up amidst the Iranian Revolution. I definitely didn't remember how much the story centers around her years as an early adult.

How Was It?

Persepolis really hits on every level. It unmasks what it's like to be a kid who's easily swayed by what they think justice is (first adoring the Shah because why wouldn't you, then competing for which relative had the most jail time). It's all really universal as well, despite being hyper-specific. In a weird way it's that specificity that brings it to become universal. Because even though the circumstances are inescapably tied to the Late 70s / Early 80s Tehran, her reaction to the insane world around her is very level-headed and logical, even if it's a sort of child logic.

That's the big thing about the comic - it doesn't necessarily denounce Iranian culture, although it clearly favors a side in the debate of women's rights under the Islamic Republic. It's notable because there are so few pieces of mainstream global art that comes out of this area that showcases this perspective. It's why we try to find ways to let underrepresented voices be heard, because this is the kind of story that could only be written by a woman who went through this stuff. It's her perspective and we see it all through that specific lens.

And it's not clear cut. In only 90 minutes we get her whole life, from an idyllic childhood under the Shah, although they make no hesitancy in denouncing his regime and the need for revolution, so her complicated relationship with her homeland as an adult. The irony is just that the Shah was replaced, "democratically" in the movie, by a much worse theocracy.

From there we get a twisting, winding tale of what it means to have a home and love your home but acknowledge that there are significant problems, to the extent that you may not feel proud of your own country. Americans in 2022 should relate. There is this loss of childhood innocence without realizing it, and this compounds as a young adult when you're trying to sort out this trauma that you didn't even know you internalized.

Marji travels to Vienna, where she doesn't fit in well at her boarding school, runs into the punk scene that she idolized as a kid, falls in and out of love with a few gay men, and is then literally left on the street because her friends judge her by her country and not her character. It's baffling to think that she'd return to Iran, but it's where her family is and it's her home, as much as she resents their tightening restriction.

She deals with depression and doesn't know why, but it's because her heart is split in half. She loves her home country and her family but knows she can't stay there. She's too vocal, too smart, and too much of a rebel to last long under the Ayatollah. It's heartbreaking to witness. The most important thing to realize when watching this is that Iranians are all just people, too. That's easy to forget here in America that labels all of them part of the Axis of Evil.

While we're dealing with all these pretty significant themes, there is a cheekiness to the proceedings and a general tone of levity which helps humanize the whole thing and not present itself as an Oscar-baiting cry for help and acceptance. That would be what a Western-made movie like this would do. It would end on a judgment of the country and exultation of Western values. But Satrapi points out how much she struggled in Europe as well.

The art helps fuel this. It's incredibly distinctive and replicates the comic. It's very flat, but also dynamic with wacky expressions and movements constantly while also knowing when to reign in its style for its more dramatic moments. It's remarkably simple but also beautiful and esoteric at times, even presenting conversations with a god (maybe the God), Karl Marx, and more in some trippy dream sequences.

Everything was good and this movie rules. I did not realize that Marjane Satrapi had become a director of other stuff like The Voices (2014), which I thought was spectacular. Give her a Marvel movie! That's the final goal.

Check out more 52 for '22 right here! 

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