Marjane Satrapi's internationally bestselling comic-book memoir Persepolis recounts her girlhood in Iran and beyond, starting with the Shah being deposed and the rise of Iran's current fundamentalist Islamic state, and stretching through Satrapi's parents' decision to send her to school in Vienna, where she faced a different set of prejudices. Though Satrapi's experiences should be relatable to anyone who grew up as she did—or anyone who's suffered being a teenager anywhere—the cartoonist is no everywoman. She depicts herself as vain and shortsighted, and she divides her life into a series of short episodes that belong to her and her alone. Early in the story, Satrapi's uncle tells the pre-teen Marji about his nine-year imprisonment under the orders of the Shah, not to scare her, but because it's part of their family history, and he believes that such things shouldn't be forgotten.
Satrapi first published Persepolis in France, where she's lived since her 20s, and she's collaborated with Parisian animator Vincent Paronnaud on a feature-film version that loses some of the digressive, impressionistic structure that made the books so charming, but adds a sense of comic whimsy that a single drawing couldn't exactly replicate. At times, the film Persepolis resembles a succession of moving political posters, graphically simple and profound; and at times, it's like an old UPA cartoon, cutesy and funny. Though there's a bit too much "and then this happened" to the structure, Paronnaud and Satrapi succeed smashingly in translating the original's spirit into animation.
That spirit is one of normal human contradiction. Those who want to see Persepolis as a political tract could interpret Satrapi's story two opposite ways: as an argument that Iran should be left alone, because there are good people living there who are working to forge a truly democratic state, or as an argument that Iran needs outside intervention to help those good people achieve their goals. Neither of those messages are implicit in the movie, however. Persepolis is more about Satrapi's own struggles with what freedom means, especially once she's safely tucked away in Europe, and falling to pieces over bad boyfriend choices instead of whether the cops are going to haul her in for wearing lipstick. The two main points Persepolis makes are that strife is relative, and all politics are personal.