Growing up, Marjane Satrapi has been one of my childhood heroines. One of the primary reasons that attracted me to her debut book, Persepolis was its forbidden fruit-ish nature. This book is one among the many others that are banned in the place I come from. Dubai is known for its tax-free shopping and luxurious cars, but not for its freedom of speech and expression.
Persepolis is a French-language, semi-autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian-born French artist and children’s book author. The book which was published in 2000 was later made into a movie in collaboration with Satrapi and French comic artist-cum-filmmaker, Vincent Paronnaud. Although the book is entirely in black and white, drawn with pen and ink, Persepolis, the 2007 animated film has a couple of scenes in colour to differentiate between flashback and present time.
Set in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, eight-year old Marjane (Marji) observes the world around her changing during a time of immense political turmoil. As the old liberal lifestyles of a cosmopolitan Iran comes to an end with the overthrow of the Shah, young Marji struggles between her revolutionary ideologies and her inherent faith. Both the book and the film depict a very candid picture of how things were in Iran without exaggerating the negative or downplaying the positive. We see Iran in the 80s through the eyes of a young girl in her blissful childhood and later, we see signs of growing frustration on her during her adolescent years. From being forced to wear the veil in school to seeing her friend die from a bomb raid, Persepolis offers an unbiased perspective on a real-life socio-political event which to us, might seem like a distant illusion found on the pages of a history book.
In her childhood, Marji sees the Islamic Revolution on one side and observes how Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson (or Jickael Mackson as he is referred to in the movie) become symbols of Western decadence. The central theme is that of life during the time of the Revolution. However, in essence, the book is a coming-of-age tale of young Marji who is forced to leave her family behind at the age of 14 to study in Vienna.
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return deals with feelings of guilt and alienation that Marji experiences while staying away from her family. As she attends rave parties and falls in love for the first time, she feels ashamed at the safety and luxury she lives in while her country is sinking deep into war.
Like I said before, the movie alternates between color and black white to differentiate between the present and the past. What I loved about it was that it supplemented the story rather than just picking segments off the book and creating a story out of them. Voiced almost entirely by French actors, this 95-minute animated feature is the perfect balance between historic and personal events, heavily laced with intelligence and humor. Although Persepolis may sound like just another movie/book about the Middle East, certain parts will leave you laughing in splits, notably, the heavily-accented ‘Eye of the Tiger’ sequence.
To conclude, it is a known fact that rebellious youth can be found in any country. However, what Satrapi manages to achieve is the universality of this phenomenon. The title, Persepolis, is used to describe the former grandiose of the Persian Empire which is presently in ruins. Although the book is a far cry from any sort of a revolutionary manifesto, it does make one think about the struggles of a group of people who were unable to enjoy the freedom we often take for granted.