How does that old saying go -- you can't go home again? While there may be truth to that, the lead character of the new film "Persepolis" has an even more perplexing, practically heartbreaking quandary she must face: Why would she even want to go home again, especially if her home is Iran?
Based on the autobiographical graphic novel of the same name by Marjane Satrapi (who writes and directs the film with Vincent Parannoud), "Persepolis" is another colorful trip into a disillusioned young lady's ghost world. As Marji, Satrapi's stand-in, sits in a Paris airport, contemplating coming back to the land she left behind, she revisits her early beginnings. The daughter of urban, bourgeoisie parents, she remembers when she was a 9-year-old, Bruce Lee-loving aspiring prophet, ready to change the world during the Shah's regime in late '70s Tehran.
Little did she know that, after the Shah was overthrown during the Islamic Revolution, his regime would be a cakewalk compared to the new one: Women now must be covered head-to-toe and be docile and submissive. Any semblance of Western culture is considered decadent -- even wearing a Michael Jackson button in public.
With our heroine growing up to be quite the rebellious teen (she wears a jacket with the aptly misspelled "Punk is Not Ded" on the back) and the city-decimating Iran-Iraq War just beginning, her parents send her off to Vienna in the hopes that she'll be safe.
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As visually wondrous as "Persepolis" is, it's also emotionally punishing. As Marji lives most of her quarterlife abroad, awkwardly blossoming into womanhood, looking for love in all the wrong places and ultimately ending up destitute on the streets, you'll see that her life is even more tumultuous than it was when she was back in Iran. You almost start to wonder if she just attracts bad vibes.
Even while Marji/Satrapi returns home and tries to break out of her Debbie Downer stigma (there's a rather goofy sequence where she gets her life back in order, to the sounds of her singing "Eye of the Tiger"), "Persepolis" nonetheless shows us how dismal and oppressive a land Iran was (and still is), and how difficult it is for someone to still be proud to say they come from there.
However, for all the Iranian pride Satrapi instills in this picture, a thing or two puzzled me. For a movie that's about Iranians, why is it mostly in French, voiced by French actors (Chiara Mastroianni as the teen/adult Marji, Catherine Deneuve as her mother, Danielle Darrieux as her no-nonsense grandmother)? I know "Persepolis" is a French production, but even that weak adaptation of "The Kite Runner" was done in native Afghani tongues.
Still, when it comes to films centered on Middle Eastern people grappling with painful pasts they'd rather not, I'll choose the artful "Persepolis" any day.