'Happily Ever After' Myth Dented

Article excerpt



PERSEPOLIS. Directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, with the voices of Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni.

THE CHARACTERS in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (co-directed with Vincent Paronnaud) are simple, friendly black-and-white line drawings, as uncomplicated as characters in a children's book. Which is precisely what throws you when they get themselves put in prison or in front of a firing squad. Satrapi, who in the graphic novels on which the film is based recalls her upbringing in Tehran during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, has said that she made her characters abstract so that they'd be more universal, so that we could see "us" in them. And it works.

A familiar story set in an unfamiliar context, it's a paean to the universality of human experience, a testament to the endurance of individuality during great political and fanatical upheaval, and a reminder that even the most complex situations, identities and stories are heartbreakingly simple.

In an era of sophisticated computer animation, Persepolis is a visual throwback to a time when abstraction was a useful aesthetic tool, not something to be overcome for the sake of creepy robotic naturalism. The fictionalised memoir is based on Satrapi's experiences as a young girl from a liberal, cosmopolitan family. The impressive movie spans Satrapi's childhood and young adulthood, from age seven to 23, when, having lived through the overthrow of the shah, the Islamic revolution and the even more oppressive fundamentalist regime that followed, the Pyrrhic Iran-Iraq war, a painful period of exile in Austria and a hasty marriage, she decides to leave her country for good. (She now lives in France, |and the film is France's Academy Award entry for best foreign language film.)

One of the sad, unintended consequences of making films about troubles in faraway lands is that often the trouble comes to define the place in our eyes, which can have a perverse distancing effect on the beholder. This, in a sense, is what Satrapi experienced after her parents sent her to boarding school in Austria to keep her safe from Islamic fundamentalists. …