Review

Re-watching Persepolis—a melancholy tale of war and love

Sometimes, anger is the only emotion which makes you feel empowered in the face of situations you have no control over. The world crashes and burns around you, adults don’t understand you, so you put your headphones on and transcend into your own world. And if you are Marjane Satrapi, you need Iron Maiden to drown the loud bangs of bombs falling all around you.

Marjane is a loud, rebellious kid, who is angry over things she doesn’t fully understand. Yet, she thinks she does but she doesn’t. She is the main character in Persepolis—a story of war, love, hope and lack thereof, and the importance of a supportive family that doesn’t ask questions if you tell them not to.

The black-and-white animated film, released in 2007, is based on an autobiographical graphic novel by Satrapi. It takes us on a journey through the pre-revolution Iran when music, dance and booze are commonplace. But unlike those one-sided posts you see on Facebook romanticising Iran, the film shows what dictatorship—whether civilian or military—can do to the social fabric of a country.

Marjane overhears her family talking about politically active people being abducted, kept in dungeons and killed at random. One of them is her own uncle, Uncle Anoush, who is released when revolutionaries, led by the Islamist leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, are at the brink of bringing down the secular rule by Shah.

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The story is narrated through the eyes of little Marjane, and her journey through the Iranian revolution and to Europe and back to her homeland. This is the story of a bright, young woman and her expectations from her life, which are marred by war with neighbouring Iraq—and adulthood. She travels to Europe, finds a boyfriend there, makes love for the first time—but the sadness is still there. She takes it with her everywhere.

Marjane Satrapi has authored many graphic novels and her films Chicken with Plums and The Voice have also received critical acclaim. It’s not just her films, but also her interviews that tell us how self-assured and headstrong she is. “The only person who stops you from being free is ourselves. Nobody can take your freedom. I mean, I have lived in a dictatorship. I know what I am talking about,” she says in a 2016 interview with Emma Watson for Vogue.

Her film is one the many brilliant productions to have come out from Iran—or rather outside. While A Separation and Children of Heaven are well-known, some like the A Girl Walks Alone at Night, with a female zombie vigilante as the main character, might not be known to many.

Many avid foreign film fans I know here wonder why Pakistan, or even India, has not produced the kind of quality films Iran has since decades. In an interesting piece published by BBC last year, Iranian academic and author Hamid Dabashi said it is mostly because “the historical formation of Iranian cinema took place on a transnational public sphere – both in its origins and its destinations – from the East India Company film studios in India where the very first Iranian films were made, to these European film festivals”.

 

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