Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The release of yet another superhero movie, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, has us thinking back on stellar adaptations of non-superhero comics.
A gorgeously rendered saga of revolutions both national and personal, Persepolis is an alternately funny and fierce autobiographical masterwork. Adapting her own graphic novel, Iranian writer/director Marjane Satrapi (co-directing with Vincent Paronnaud) animates her hand-drawn action in black and white—a palette that reflects not only the constricting social and political forces that surround her protagonist (voiced by Gabrielle Lopes Benites as a child, and Chiara Mastroianni as a teen and adult), but also the light and dark emotions that characterize adolescence. Set in the wake of Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution, Satrapi’s coming-of-age tale takes place during the ’80s and ’90s—two periods that form more-or-less even halves of the film. In the first, an innocent Satrapi struggles to come to grips with a more restrictive new world order epitomized by a black mass of marchers chanting, “Down with the Shah.” It foreshadows the black veils that will soon dominate the country, and Satrapi—a lover of Iron Maiden and Godzilla, among other Western pleasures—actively rebels against it.
Persepolis also charts the divorce of Satrapi’s parents (voiced by Catherine Deneuve and Simon Abkarian), which forces the girl to split time between Iran and her boarding school in Vienna. The sense of dislocation created by that geographical flip-flopping is part-and-parcel of Persepolis’ larger portrait of its protagonist’s displacement. A product of both East and West, Satrapi constantly tries to fit in, whether by embracing punk rock or by marrying an Iranian man and donning the veil. Such confusion isn’t neatly resolved by the end of the film, which accepts and embraces the fact that happiness is at once elusive and fleeting, just as people—including Satrapi, whose actions are alternately noble and shameful—are fundamentally imperfect. That latter fact is addressed during one of Satrapi’s imaginary childhood conversations with God, and gives Persepolis a mature honesty that’s bracing, and true to not only its main character’s experiences, but to life itself.
Availability: Persepolis is available on DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix or purchased at major retailers.