Persepolis: A Personal Iranian Narrative

In the animated film Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi narrates her own personal journey in the midst of key historical and political events during the Islamic Revolution and the Iraq-Iran War that affected her while she was growing up. It’s because of her fondness of Western punk music and her moments of bold outspokenness that her parents send her to Austria for her safety. After dealing with new surroundings, issues in her adolescence, and homesickness, she returns home to a tyrannical society, a stranger in her own home.

When first reading the synopsis, it is easy to think that this film is a production closely associated to the nation state of Iran as discussed in class within the lectures covering Israeli and Palestinian cinema and how it can function as an ethnographic lens into revealing and building an image of a state, society, and its people. However, upon viewing the animation, you’ll find the dialogue not in Iranian, but in French with English subtitles. Satrapi tells the story of her childhood from her current home in France. This isn’t to say that her work is any less prevalent in challenging the stereotypes and presenting the lives of another group of the people in the Middle East as Bardenstein suggest in her article about cross casting and blurring the boundaries in Israeli and Palestinian film, but it presents the transnational multilayered effort to create an honest, compelling story from the experiences and perspective of an Iranian person.

Other things I found interesting about this film is that it’s the adaptation to Satrapi’s graphic novels, which were printed in French and English among other languages, which shows how it’s meant for a more international audience. Having had the chance to read one of the volumes over winter break, I saw remarkable differences in what had been written and what was portrayed in the film. I found there was a lot more detail in the background information given about the political events and her involvement that didn’t make it into the film. The things that remained the same were the simplistic graphic visuals of the graphic novel and the movie. As she describes in her interview, although it is about Iran, the ambiguous visual environment and dreamlike quality of some of the scenes helps it maintain a universal effect, which allows people to focus more on the people and an imagined place where people can come together as opposed to a specific place that sets them apart.

For more info, interviews, and such visit the Sony Entertainment website here.

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1 Response to Persepolis: A Personal Iranian Narrative

  1. I read Persepolis a few years ago and just recently saw the film adaptation. While I though the film was well done, I agree that the book provided more political context and personal background. However, I found that in both the book and the film, fluidity between languages is essential in Satrapi’s narration. The story makes Schulthies’ ideas about pluralingualism really tangible. The simplistic illustrations and animations are accompanied with a deep plot that forces readers/viewers to consider how intersecting stereotypes influence real people like Satrapi.

    I have also read another one of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels, Chicken With Plums In came out first in French in 2004 and then in English in 2006. It tells the story of Satrapi’s great uncle, Nasser Ali Khan, and his heartache after his favorite instrument is broken. It is set in 1950’s Tehran and follows a non-linear narration that communicates his desire for a more open Iran before the revolution. I heard it was made into a film last year also, but I am yet to see it. But I can say that I highly recommend it for those who enjoyed Persepolis.

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