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Weekly Classics: Persepolis

January 18, 2013

Watch the trailer here before proceeding.

Once in a while, there is a certain film that you watch and realise how much it actually relates to your own experiences. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is one such film that may produce a similar effect on the viewer.

Satrapi’s Persepolis is the story of Marjane herself, as a young girl in Iran and adolescent in Vienna. It is a story about how she grows into an outspoken young woman who neither fits into the hypocritical, yet tyrannised Iranian society, nor into the Western society where her friends think ‘it’s wild’ how she lived through a revolution and a war in Iran while all they have ever done with their lives is dream of a revolution and embroil themselves in the Communist ideology. Yet, she eventually learns to be proud of her origins and her Iranian heritage through her experiences.

Young Marji is an adorable, innocent little girl who lives in a bubble of her own. Yet, the bubble that she is encased in is made of a film so clear that it shows her the world around her as it exists in reality. Her childhood illusions are shattered one by one, that too in a manner that seems rather brutal for a young child. Nevertheless, for every illusion that is shattered, Marji also learns something new: about her family background, about being kind to people without limitations of race, ethnicity, religious beliefs etc. Her childish dreams of becoming a prophet, for example, are shattered because God did not stop the ruling regime of Iran from executing her favourite uncle, Uncle Anoush.

Marji’s relationship with her Uncle Anoush is especially moving because they grew close in a short space of time as Uncle Anoush had just returned after living in exile for many years. He told Marji everything about his life and his exile, except his love life of course. Marji was excited to see this new uncle who had just returned from exile. Yes, part of her excitement resulted from the fact that now she too would be able to show off her uncle’s participation in the revolutionary struggle to her friends, just like her friends who had showed off about her father who had just been released from prison where he had been a political prisoner and a ‘hero’. Eventually, by the time Marji meets Uncle Anoush in jail for the last time, he means much more to her than just a way to impress her friends with her ‘revolutionary’ background.

Marji also shares a unique relationship with her grandmother, who is a rather spirited, graceful woman. She tells her things that normally parents and other elderly family members would not tell a child. Marji doesn’t fully discover and/or understand these things until she is a young adult. Out of everything that her grandmother ever told her, one thing definitely stands out in Marji’s consciousness, even more than what Uncle Anoush had told her. Once in Vienna, Marji walks home from a party where she had lied to someone that she was French and not Iranian. As she walks, she hears her grandmother ask in her usual soft voice that was she now a Frenchwoman.

Marji remembers the life lessons that her Uncle Anoush and her grandmother had taught her. In fact, both had told her to remain true to herself and to her roots and made her promise them that she would. She feels immensely guilty for those few times she did break that promise.

There are at least three different forms of narratives in Persepolis that help to move the storyline forward. The present day parts where we see a grown up Marji, well into adulthood, looking back at her life in Tehran during the Revolution of 1979, her life in Vienna and her life in Tehran after her return from Vienna. Those parts are shown in coloured graphics. Marji’s personal flashbacks are in black and white. They comprise about 80 per cent of the total narrative of the film and tell most of the story. However, there are also further flashbacks that touch upon Iranian history from the pre-Shah era. These have been depicted like a shadow theatre.

It is Marji’s journey of learning to be loyal and proud of her roots that first helped me to connect to the character. She learnt to be proud of her heritage while she was in Vienna and later in Paris. But then, there were so many things that she realised were a part of the Iranian culture that she was expected to adhere to. The same was the case with the Western culture she encountered during her four years in Vienna.
When a situation like this occurs, the individual caught between any two different cultures is actually left in no-man’s land. Like the strip of land in between the borders of two countries, people like Marji and me find themselves stuck in a similar no-man’s land that exists between two wholly different cultures. Neither are we truly a part of our native culture, nor can we make a place for ourselves in the host culture because there will always be certain aspects of both cultures that will result in alienating us from both and make us unable to comprehend these aspects. Therefore, we end up having to set up a life on that little strip between the two cultures. That no-man’s land then becomes the place, the land that we must call ‘Home’, where we must belong.

If you have read Persepolis, the book and haven’t watched the film yet, then this is for you. I admit that like all other film adaptations of books, you might find this adaptation a wee bit lacking in content. Nevertheless, I would still recommend it highly to everyone, whether or not you have read the graphic novel.

View’s weekly classics archive here.

The author is a Multimedia Producer at