Socialist Worker

Persepolis: breathtaking animation, but not enough reality

Persepolis gives a narrow and inaccurate portrayal of Iran’s history, writes Dominic Kouros Kavakeb

Issue No. 2098

Marjane Satrapi leads the chanting in Persepolis

Marjane Satrapi leads the chanting in Persepolis

Persepolis is the cinematic adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, which is based upon her life growing up in Iran.

Her story is set against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the 1980-88 war between Iran and Iraq.

The animated film gives a view of Iranian society through the eyes of a middle class young woman.

This makes an interesting story and is at times visually stunning, with breathtaking animation which is cleverly used.

The film takes us through Marjane’s life as she experiences tumultuous times in Iran. She then moves to Vienna and struggles with her identity as an Iranian in Europe. On returning to Iran in the 1990s she finds a repressive regime still intact and in the end moves to France, clearly troubled by the thought of leaving people behind in “backward” Iran.

Marjane’s perception of the extraordinary events that took place in Iran is the key focus for the film.

She was clearly raised in a highly political family and her relationship with her family is an important theme of the movie.

But her family background is not that of an ordinary Iranian – she is a great granddaughter of Nasser al-Din Shah, who ruled Persia, as Iran was then called, from 1848 until 1896.

So her insight into events is somewhat different to that of most Iranian people.

A particular inspiration is her Uncle Anoush – a communist who had been involved in the overthrow of the Shah’s dictatorship in 1979.

After the revolution he was brutally executed by the Islamic state and became a hero to the rebellious young Marjane. But the film does not go into the politics of the revolution in any great depth.

Marjane and her family are certainly in favour of the overthrow of the Shah.

But the mass resistance of ordinary workers is not shown in the film. Instead, resistance is portrayed as purely individual – such as deciding to take off a hijab or having alcohol at a party.


This distorts the reality of the Iranian Revolution.

The portrayal of the other important event of Marjane’s early years – the war between Iran and Iraq – is even more lacking in political analysis.

The harsh reality of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran is barely discussed and instead the film focuses on the repression used by the Iranian government during this time.

The fact that the Iraqi army was backed to the hilt by the US to crush the Iranian Revolution is lost in the film.

At one point Marjane mentions that “both sides were armed by Western powers” but such a statement doesn’t come anywhere near to doing justice to the reality of the war.

The film gives the impression that the Iranian government was to blame for the war and that the roles played by Iran and Iraq were equally bad.

This is suggested several times.

A childhood friend of Marjane is brainwashed by a teacher into joining the army to fight Saddam, motivated by religious fanaticism.

As a piece of artwork Persepolis is successful. But it gives a pessimistic view of Iranian society.

The film offers little in terms of a real understanding of Iranian society – an understanding that we so desperately need at a time when the image we get from the pro-war mass media is Iran as a brutal medieval theocracy.

Unfortunately, Persepolis does nothing to dispel this myth.

Persepolis is showing at cinemas nationwide from Friday

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Tue 22 Apr 2008, 18:32 BST
Issue No. 2098
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