How to buy Iron Maiden tapes during a repressive regime, keeping aging breasts round by soaking them in ice water for ten minutes a day, surviving war and tyranny as well as Austrian nihilists, and what to say to get kicked out of a nunnery in the middle of winter in Vienna. Persepolis, the animated feature film based on the bestselling graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi, is the political film currently winning accolades around the world (except Iran) and for good reason: not only can you discover the above secrets and negotiations of life through the poignant and vulnerable writing of Satrapi, but the animation is exquisite. The film also contains possibly the best bit of media-facilitated revenge I have ever seen exacted on an ex-lover. If I was that loser living in Austria, I’d be thinking twice before messing with another cartoonist like the driven, talented and fierce Satrapi.
While ruminating on our present age of computer animation typified by Disney’s creatively bankrupt Cars, and sitting in the positively packed Cinema du Parc theatre in Montreal for Persepolis, I had that warm and fuzzy feeling of all is not lost. More than a searing stab at the oppressive fundamentalism that has marked Iran, Satrapi and co-director Vincent Paronnaud’s film is a tale of growing up through war, love, transplantation, and ensuing cultural and emotional heartache, wreckage and rediscovery. And of course the Austrian nihilists.
True to the two volume graphic novels of the same name, the film uses often simple, yet eloquent black-and-white animation to visually carry us through the life of Satrapi, from her early Bruce Lee-worshipping days as a grasshopper in Iran to her rebellious youth as an oppressed young woman discovering politics and American heavy metal and rock (and sneakers) in the streets of Tehran. The second half of the film follows her misadventures in Austria with anarchists and nihilists, miserably unlucky love affairs, lonely winter nights with crotchety nuns and her return to Iran where politics had shifted but continued brutal repression and a long, US-facilitated and devastating war with Iraq had wounded her country beyond recognition.
The president of Iran recently declined Oliver Stone’s invitation to have the American master of violence and politics make a documentary about him, saying Stone was part of the “Great Satan.” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also wrote to Cannes requesting, sternly, that they do not strain diplomatic ties between Iran and France by showing Persepolis, which went on to win the Jury prize. Many in “the West” know very little about Iran, and with all the war-talk emanating out of Washington and the divisive, religious-soaked rhetoric drifting out of Tehran – some sapient cultural exchanges might be in order.
I propose that a delegate of Iranians be invited to Washington to watch a special screening of Persepolis, and a group of American diplomats head to Tehran to watch the film adaptation of Joel Andreas’s graphic novel, Addicted to War: Why the US Can’t Kick Militarism, as soon as it is finished. Barring this ridiculous fantasy, go see Persepolis: it is sad, it is funny (very funny), it is educational, it is political, and it builds cultural understanding. Did I mention it’s also got the best damn cover of Eye of the Tiger ever captured on film?
Previously on Art Threat:
Iran Protests Persepolis at Cannes