Persepolis is the autobiographical story of Marjane Satrapi, creator of a graphic novel of the same name, who grew up in Iran during the 1970s, enduring the reign of the Shar and much of the tumultuous times which followed his overthrow. Starting off as a chirpy and strong-willed little girl, enchanted by the stories of her communist uncle and other revolutionary friends of her father, she is poorly prepared for the increasingly prohibitive turns her native culture takes over the years. Sent from her home to be educated far from such institutional repression, the journey of her growth into a young woman is in many ways no different from any other tale of adolescence and coming of age, but always there is this background of violence and injustice lending weight to her experiences.
Obviously, given its source, the film takes its cues from the art work of the graphic novel, which Satrapi did herself. The result as realised on the silver screen is simply, almost childishly stunning; superficially uncomplicated but expressive and moving – literally moving too, there is a dynamism to the images that belie their simplicity. Bookended by short, coloured “present day” sequences, the main body of the film is entirely black and white; the overall style takes inspiration from film noir and expressionism, breaking on a few occasions into puppet-style visualisations of the young girl’s imagination. It looks, from start to finish, fantastic. And there’s the small matter of a funny, sad, powerfully understated story it tells as well.
The least interesting aspect of Persepolis is its treatment at the Oscars; submitted but not nominated as the French entry for Best Foreign Film, and ludicrously passed over for Best Animated Feature in favour of Disney’s fluff-by-the-numbers Ratatouille – surely not the final nail in the Academy’s credibility coffin, much as one might wish. Elsewhere, in the thinking world of film, it is rightly recognised as a piece of quality regardless of the relative niche product which animation makes it. Persepolis is one of the best films I’ve seen this year.