Political Film Society - Newsletter #295 - December 27, 2007
 



December 27, 2007


 

IRAN’S PAINFUL HISTORY THROUGH THE EARS & EYES OF A TEENAGER IN PERSEPOLIS
PersepolisPersepolis is a coming-of-age biopic based on a four-volume graphic book (subtitled The Story of a Childhood) that is portrayed on the screen through animation. Based on the life of Marjane Satrapi, who writes the book and directs the animation, the story begins in 1978, when she is 7. Often, personalities are formed before that age, so with Bruce Lee as a personal hero Marjane (voiced by Gabrielle Lopes) is destined not to fit into Iran after the fall of the Shah. The film is also a revealing history of Iran itself. From uncle Anouche (voiced by François Jerosme), a Communist, she learns that the father of the last Shah of Iran overthrew the Persian monarchy with British help (in 1921) so that Britain could control an oil monopoly, thereby provoking resistance from both Communists and royalists. Shah Reza proceeded to modernize the country (new industries, a national educational system, a rail system), but his crackdown on opponents was minor compared to the last Shah, who continued modernization dictatorially despite political opposition (some from the very middle class that the modernization created). (However, the film fails to mention that the elder Shah was forced to abdicate in 1941 by Anglo-British troops in favor of his son, and that after the war Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq, though appointed by the Shah, nationalized the oil industry in 1951, only to have an Anglo-British plot end the democracy in 1953, leaving the Shah supreme.)

In any case, her uncle is released from nine years in prison after the fall of the Shah in 1979, only to be later rearrested as an enemy of the mullahs of the new Islamic Republic of Iran. For the years 1980-1988, the war between Iran and Iraq is fed by weapons sold to both sides from the West. While changes in politically correct norms from the Shah to the mullahs confuse Marjane, her grandmother (voiced by Danielle Derrieux) gives her wise counsel. One day outspoken Marjane hears her Tehran teacher sing the praises of the regime for having no political prisoners, whereupon she points out that there are now 300,000 political prisoners compared to the Shah’s 3,000. Her parents Tadji and Ebi (voiced by Catherine Denueve and Simon Abkarian) they ship her at age 14 to a boarding school in Vienna, where again her sharp tongue results in expulsions from schools and residences, and she ultimately begs to return to Tehran for college. When she arrives home, now as a young woman (voiced by Chiara Mastroianni, Deneuve’s actual daughter), she tries to continue her loose Western lifestyle on the sly, but the morality police frighten her, so she marries but divorces and at the age of 24 finally flies off to France, where she has lived from 1994. Banned in Iran, the Political Film Society responds by nominating Persepolis as best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2007. MH