Saturday, 12 March 2016

Film Review: Persepolis

Figure 1: Theatrical Poster (Lavoignat, 2008)
  • Director: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud
  • Native Title: Persepolis
  • Primary Language: English
  • Format: Colour
  • Year of Release: 2007
  • Budget: est. $7,300,000
  • Film Length: 96 minutes
  • Production Company: 2.4.7 Films, France 3 CinĂ©ma
''Persepolis''' is a 2007 French film composed by French-Iranian graphic novelist and illustrator Marjane-Satrapi. The film - adapted from a comic series of the same name, and named after a major city within Iran - documents the writer's life, particularly as she lived though Iranian Revolution of the 1980s. As she grows up, she comes to terms with politics and her faith, her place in society as a woman both in the Islamic and secular world, as well as coming to understand how the world sees her home country of Iran. All this told with a bold monochrome style, an elastic sense of exaggeration and a tone of reflection as Marjane tells her story to those who would listen. A story that ,as it turns out, could definitely be felt by anyone and not just someone having to live under an unfair government.

Figure 2: As dissatisfied with her government as Marjane was, I don't think anything could have prepared her for the level of non-conformism her friends in Vienna advocated. (Lavoignat, 2008)
  What surprised me most was that despite what sounds like a French accent, Marjene came to feel like an outsider in Vienna "where she experiences the finest condescension and misogyny that the west has to offer: in fact, something of the exploitation inherent in sexual-liberalism that the mullahs warned her about" (Bradshaw, 2008). While in Vienna she was ashamed of her Iranian heritage. She claimed herself French, yet eavesdropped gossip shows though: The people around her saw her as a "savage", a woman from a backwards nation with primitive ideals. She came to associate herself with her school's outcasts; anarchists and non-conformists, one of which regularly talked in condescension of the establishment. They were drawn to Marjane, as she had lived through a war in their eyes. But unlike the Marxist intellectuals that were her family's friends, these outcasts chimed more of the infamous Hipster movement. While Marjene's parents spoke of collective opinion as something suppressed by the elite until boiling point, Marjene's Viennan however friends spoke constantly as if living anything but their outcast lifestyle is a willful form of delusionary bliss.

Figure 3: Throughout the film, Marjane is forced to choose between fitting in and being herself. But being made uncomfortable with either. (Panic Manual, 2009)
On reflection, much of the film argues between fitting in and standing out. "Ultimately, Persepolis is concerned with the state of exile, a condition that, as evidenced by Marjane’s teenage stabs at trying to ingratiate herself into various social scenes (nihilistic punk, groovy disco, anarchic hippie), hopelessly frustrates identity formation." (Schager, 2007) Thoughout the film Marjane does not feel connected, whenever she tries to integrate, she's something that makes her fundamentally different, be it as innocuous as being a Bee-Gees fan when her friends like ABBA, to more crucial traits such as her political mindfulness keeping her from forever enjoying her time among Nihilists. Marjene is someone who doesn't fit in anywhere, travelling a rocky road of self-discovery where she has ups and downs (such as breaking out of a drugged-up depressive phase by literally and figuratively waking up and restoring herself to tune of Eye of the Tiger). She becomes more of a distinct woman embracing what makes her different than she does trying to pretend she's something she's not. Whether she's happy about it however is the difficulty, and what she struggles with for much of the film.

Figure 4: Marjane's visit to a Viennan supermarket is but the first step as she learns how thematically different Vienna is to Tehran. (Soares, 2007)
  The conflict between standing out and fitting in "It is in Vienna that the full pathos of her situation becomes clear, a dilemma that is hardly hers alone. Either she can be more or less free and give up her home, or she can return home at the cost of her freedom and individuality." (Scott, 2007) The two cities represent the two sides of freedom against belonging. Vienna, offers personal freedom, as Marjane has access to parties, men, drugs and a philosophical yearning. Yet she feels alone, unable to find people to talk to. Her outcast friends mature or move on, leaving her to find another network. While she lives with an eccentric lady with a nice apartment, but is forced to move on after lashing out using the bottled-up feelings still fresh from an unfaithful lover.

  Persepolis is a deeply insightful film, one that deals quite solidly with the challenges of fitting in and being yourself, how the search to find who you are can be at odds with what society wants or expects you to be. Even in Europe, where you might think she is free to be herself, she has problems as she is judged by where she comes from. The film thus could be considered a thought-provoking metaphor that the struggle for individuality can happen even where one might think they are free from the idea that some greater entity - be it a diety, the government or a large network of strangers - expects you to act or be a certain thing.


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