Arts Under Review: Cinema: Persepolis (PG-13)

This French cartoon recently nominated for an Academy Award is billed mostly as a movie about the Iranian Revolution in Iran. In the end, however, the graphic novel-based movie speaks much more to the universal experience of growing up. The lush black-and-white animation centers on the childhood and adolescence of Marji, a girl born in Iran in the early 1970’s.

The first third of the movie or so follows Marji as her world is turned upside down by Iranian Revolution. Before the revolution, Marji is deeply influenced by the dreamy ideas of her Communist uncle, an opponent of the Shah and former resident of the Soviet Union. But soon the Shah is deposed in favor of a new, hardliner regime. The movie does a good job of depicting this jarring change in her life: one day her life is brimming with Western ideas and values, and then suddenly she is wearing the headscarf and learning about her new Supreme Leader. Her secret adolescent rebellion against the new regime (listening to the Bee Gees, for instance) is hilarious and touching.

But soon the movie veers in more personal territory. Marji is sent to Vienna during the dangers of the Iran-Iraq War, where she goes through the pains of high school and living away from home. While her heartbreaks and crises remain entertaining, the movie loses focus. The grand tensions of the Revolution are now far away, and instead we are left with conflicts over boys. The film even drags a little bit while she lives homeless on the streets for several months. By the time she returns to Iran at about age 19, she has been changed by the West. She tries to fit back into the rigid lifestyle of Revolutionary Iran, but ultimately cannot handle it and moves to France.

The movie is alive with humor, excellent visual effects, and an eye for the universal feelings of adolescence. But in the end, just as the Iranian Revolution was the defining moment of her life, it becomes the defining moment of the movie. Its too bad, then, that the moment is over so early on.

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