Film Review: Persepolis (2007)

“Je me souviens à cette époque je menais une vie tranquille et sans histoire, une vie de petite fille.”

There’s something a little depressing in finding out that people were right all along – my natural (and completely irrational, I know that) antipathy towards animated films means that it takes a lot to get me to watch them and so this is actually the first time I have actually watched Persepolis, the Cannes Grand Jury prize winner from 2007. An English version has been made which replaces some of the actors but as I wanted to listen to Danielle Darrieux as Grandmother, I opted for the original French (with subtitles natch). 

France’s own Judi Dench and Finty Williams, Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni star (and interestingly, both also appear in the English version) in this coming of age tale of a young Iranian woman, set against the overthrow of the Shah and the rise of Islamic fundamentalist rule. Mastroianni plays Marji, through whose eyes we see the whole thing – the optimism of change as revolution kicks in, the excitement of being involved in a family full of activists, the fear at the realisation of what has actually been implemented by the new regime. 

It can be funny (like when she tries to promote ABBA to her friends) but more often it is sad, not least for the knowledge that is autobiographical, ‘Marji’ is Marjane Satrapi who writes and directs here from her own graphic novel. And as she’s sent away to Vienna for her own safety due to her refusal not to protest, the difficulties she experiences there indicate the struggles that those who have been displaced from their homeland can feel, even though that home is no longer recognisable as the place it once was.

Darrieux dispenses wisdom beautifully as the pragmatic grandmother who demands respect for what her family has suffered rather than Marji’s outright rebellion and the path for the younger woman to reach that level of understanding makes Persepolis a truly magnificent piece of work. More fool me for having waited so long to see it.

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