Persepolis begins with the childhood of Marjane Satrapi, the film’s creator and protagonist. She is born in Iran during the last years of the Shah’s control, and, as a ten-year-old, Marjane goes to bed shouting “Down with the shah!” When revolution comes, though, it is fierce and terrible. The new regime, as the modern world knows all too well, is not at all welcoming to a strong-minded woman with a taste for American music and culture.
First things first: this movie does not function very well as a traditional narrative. It does not have a beginning, middle, or end, at least not in terms of plot; it is a memoir, and characters and events proceed from one to the next as they do in real life. The effect of an event or character on the plot is not as important as its effect on Marjane.
Nothing is sugar-coated or whitewashed in this movie. Horrible things happen, and horrible things are done by the narrator—they are gently, but firmly, portrayed and Marjane never tries to make herself appear more sympathetic than she really is. Marjane struggles with her first love, first marriage, first divorce, and her sexuality, identity, and Iranian heritage. She has mixed feelings about all of these elements of her life and is fully willing to explore, in front of the camera, the most difficult aspects of her personal history.
The film's visuals are quite unique. Marjane’s life is shown in stark, simple drawings that transform gossiping old women into swooping curlicues and unfaithful boyfriends into buck-toothed horrors. Persepolis’s aesthetic strength, combined with its melting sincerity, are the film’s greatest features.
Watch this movie.