Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud, FRA 2007
Vera Zienema is marking International Women’s Day by screening a wonderful modern classic: the animation feature based on the autobiographical graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi entitled Persepolis (2000–2003), on growing up, dictatorship, war and repression, suffused with healthy helpings of brilliant humour and touching emotion. Zienema screened it a year after its 2007 release, so it’s about time we did so again. Not only does Persepolis shed light on various aspects of (recent) Iranian history and society, it also deals with universal themes such as childhood, maturing, the lives of girls and women in repressive societies, as well as the treatment endured by immigrants and refugees at the hands of those blinded by prejudice and dubious beliefs concerning other countries and the people from them.
At first glance, the story is a fairly simple one, which is also true of Satrapi’s graphic art (bringing Groningen’s comic talent and author Barbara Stok to mind for various reasons), presented in what she herself prefers to call comic books, not graphic novels. A girl brought up in the Iranian middle class in a left-leaning well-to-do family has the bad luck to experience one dictatorship being traded in for another, with war with neighbouring Iraq soon breaking out, another reason to further increase the repression that has dogged Iranian lives for decades now, which those in power claim is simply based on religion. Book and movie both wonderfully depict why no one should have the gall to require children to wear headscarves for ludicrous, hypocritical reasons. Since the rambunctious young girl seems headed for trouble, her parents send her to a boarding school in Switzerland, where adolescence and schooling end in a period of homelessness and her return to Iran, for college and a short-lived marriage.
The original French version of the movie stars the voices of Chiara Mastroianni an Catherine Deneuve, while the English one features Gena Rowlands, Sean Penn and Iggy Pop. The visual style – with the movie mainly in black-and-white – is astounding: Satrapi monitored every aspect of it, which initially irritated her co-director. She insisted on classic animation techniques which required more animators than France then had. But Paronnaud soon realised her brilliance and would go on to collaborate on the movie version of yet another of her books: Chicken with Plums (Poulet aux prunes, 2011).
And what else has Satrapi been up to? She is truly a one of a kind, wonderful and original spirit, making and writing a number of movies, as well as sometimes acting in them, although not always to the liking of viewers, who so panned Gang of the Jotas (La bande des Jotas, 2012) and her performance, that you immediately want to see this crime comedy about switched luggage, two badminton players, the Mafia and a mysterious woman, played by Satrapi. In 2015, RKZ Bios treated Groningen to her next movie, The Voices (2014), a bizarre black comedy starring Ryan Reynolds as a happy-go-lucky schizophrenic intentionally not taking his meds, since he enjoys having his cat and dog tell him what to do, something which goes horribly and bloodily wrong. Her next movie will be officially released this April, a biopic about Madame Curie entitled Radioactive, which a critic claimed couldn’t beat reading a comic book. Back-handed compliment, praise? Who knows? I certainly want to see it!
So anyone wanting to get a head start on celebrating International Women’s Day by watching a heartwarming, award-winning masterpiece, based on a book that to this day manages to rile reactionary deadheads while bringing joy to anyone appreciating true beauty and art, will have to trek over to VERA Zienema yet again.
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