3 Stars — Enlightening

For the people of Iran, the last few decades have been devastating politically, socially and religiously. Understanding this experience through the eyes of a young Iranian girl as she comes of age gives an insider’s view not usually available for those of us so far removed. But Marjane Satrapi invites us into her life through her Oscar-nominated animation film, Persepolis.

Having graphically expressed her experience in an acclaimed novel, Marjane partnered with artist Vincent Paronnaud to create a compelling stylized black-and-white animated format that walks us through the first years of her life. Born in 1969 into a politically active family, she weaves together the changes in Iran with her own young life. Having been educated in a French school, Marjane or Marji (voice by Chiara Mastroianni) eventually chooses to leave Iran and make her home in Paris. The film is therefore in French with subtitles.

Persepolis was the capital of the Persian Empire. This title helps us grasp the struggle Marji experiences, as her love and pride in her people is evident even when her nation is being manipulated by a Western nation that takes its oil, when it is enduring an incomprehensible war with Iraq, or when it is under the dictatorial power of the shah or the religious requirements of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Unexpected is Marji’s interest in western culture and its music and dress.

Having had several intense spiritual experiences in which she sees herself as a prophet, she loses faith in God when she believes him to be impotent in the face of the suffering of her family, her friends, her neighbors and her nation. In the final experience, the film presents her conversation with God as including Marx, implying them to only be imagined hallucinations and not real encounters.

Marji’s parents (voiced by Catherine Deneuve and Simon Abkarian) are solidly middle class but avoid the political fates of their larger family. Her uncle, Anouche (Francois Jerosme), had fled to Europe when the shah’s father first came to power and he earned a doctorate in the political ideology of Marx. Anouche made sure Marji knew the history of her family with her grandfather’s fight for freedom as well.

But it was Marji’s grandmother (voice by Danielle Darrieux) who teaches her about integrity, although she also encourages her to get a divorce, explaining that she sees a first marriage as “only a practice for the second and lasting one.” It is this acceptance of secular values that is most disconcerting in Marji’s life. Disdainful of the oppressive religious leaders of her land and their inconsistent requirements, Marji and her grandmother seem to have little awareness that the secular viewpoint, though opposite to the religious, has its own inconsistencies and barrenness. Although Marji experiences many of these firsthand, they seem to have little effect in opening her eyes to this fact.

Persepolis gives voice to a unique childhood and insight into a struggling nation. As such, it is a perspective worthy of our investigation.


• When Marji becomes aware her teachers were not telling her the truth about her own nation, she has the courage to speak up. But this same courage made it dangerous for her to stay. What do you believe would have happened had she stayed?

• The manipulation of nations for their natural resources is often excused in the West as “business.” What do you believe such business practices have done to our world? Can we expect peace as long as this occurs?

• God’s statement to Marji that it was men who were killing one another, and not him, is unsatisfying to her. Is it satisfying to you? Do you blame God for the “warring madness” of humanity? Why or why not?

• Marji’s experience in Vienna shows the disappointment many feel about the decadence of Western culture. Do you experience Western culture in that way? Why or why not?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.