June 13, 2016 by Jessica Palmer
Review of Marjane Satrapi et Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis
Brigham Young University
Marjane Satrapi et Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis, 2007.
“You’ve seen a revolution and a war?”
“Did you see lots of dead people?”
Persepolis, the animated film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical comic books of the same name, tells the story of an adolescence shaped by years of aggressive societal and religious conflict. As a young child, the author (and heroine, if you will) witnesses the beginnings of the Iranian Revolution, which brought with it the rise to power of an orthodox Islamist regime.
The daughter of progressive parents who play host to a circle of free-thinking friends, the young Satrapi is forced to navigate an often paradoxical dual existence at home and in public. A self-proclaimed revolutionary, Satrapi finds herself frequently at odds with an increasingly conservative and culturally fractured Iranian society. She rebels, though not always openly, against the strict expectations of the Islamist government, blasting punk rock in her bedroom and pioneering a clandestine movement for female liberation among her close friends. When her private rebellions finally lead to run-ins with the Iranian police and unforgiving school teachers (vividly portrayed as towering, writhing, and limbless masses cloaked in all black), her parents decide to send her to study at a French Lycée in Vienna.
Satrapi’s hesitant feminism and social rebellion, formed early in her adolescence in Iran, find an outlet in Vienna among students whose radical rejection of social mores is anything but repressed. Her experiences, marked by an eclectic succession of friends, roommates, and boyfriends (none of whom share her background), cause her to reflect on her Iranian heritage. Satrapi struggles to find her place as a woman—and as a Muslim—in a broad range of contexts.
While her new environment initially pulls her away from the traditions of her childhood and native Iran, Satrapi eventually comes to recognize the indelible mark they have left on her. After a few years, she makes the decision to finish her education in Iran, close to her family. Her return to Iran is accompanied by a decided sobering of her attitude, and for a time she contents herself at playing the part of a conservative, traditional Muslim woman. The transformation, however, is not permanent. Early in her adulthood, and riding on the heels a failed marriage and the depression of social exhaustion, Satrapi packs her bags for Paris.
The film manages to represent some degree of reconciliation of identity without indulging in gratuitous plot resolution. The story closes with a self-assured, pensive Satrapi leaving Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport. In a moment of reflection, and almost in spite of herself, the heroine voices this reconciliation of identities: after being asked by an airport cab driver where she is coming from, Satrapi responds thoughtfully, “Iran.”
Given its autobiographical nature, Persepolis has surprising relevance to current social and political climates in France. The country’s population of young “Beurs” (second-generation Arab immigrants) struggles with a similar cultural paradox, where religious traditions are often in direct conflict with the desire to be integrated into a more modern and progressive society. Though the contexts are reversed (the French culture and government providing the pull of modernity that runs against the orthodoxy of the Beurs’ home life), the struggle to find reconciliation of dual identities is much the same.