In the world of comics there are the comics which are considered, well, kids-stuff by the non-initiated. In this silo fall the comics that they make blockbusters of: Spiderman, Superman, et. al.
Then there are the world of Literary Comics, the comics that those who shrug their shoulders at the oeuvre of the first style know that they will be thrown out of hipster High for dissing ( nota bene: there’s some overlap in these two camps cf. The Dark Knight Returns, Death of Superman arc, etc.). Chief among these would be anything by Alan Moore but assuredly most embodied in his magnum opus: “The Watchmen”
The third silo would be “Serious Comics for Grownups”. This genre was assuredly ushered in by Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”, a grim recounting of the holocaust with Jews portrayed by mice, and Nazis portrayed by cats.
Among this latter category emerged, in my awareness, Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis”, in the early 2000’s. I remember thinking that the drawings were so simple and so plain, but the story of a young girl during pre-Revolutionary Iran was an immediate hook.
My only relationship to Iran had been a hazy recollection of badness during the Reagan years and then that they were a koo-koo theocracy.
Over the years, and especially during my years in California where I met Persians, I came to realize that it’s a country of incredible erudition, of incredibly beauty, and incredible complexity. Persia was the land of Darius, of Xerxes, of Alexander, of the gateway to India, to the place where, on the silk Road, Hindu met Christian met Buddhist met the Cult of Mithras. It’s truly the touchpoint of the philosophic east and the philosophic west.
“Persepolis” has just been made into a beautifully animated move which is, in measures, partly the recounting of teen angst + hijab, the sorrow of being an intellectual family and having loved ones jailed or worse, of being an Iranian who saw her neighbor’s home take a missile, and an education of how the CIA helped install a corrupt regime ( and educated the torturer class ) and how the West happily armed both sides in the Iran - Iraq war, making the atmosphere ripe for no(know?)-nothing theocrats to seize power.
Best intentions, eh?
In any case, this story is the tragedy of a broken land and of a girl’s heart breaking in the process. It’s the story of finding that pure pride of being from the land that kisses the Caspian in spite of the shambles, and bravely entering a world that will look down upon you for what they think you are. It is the story of being strong, of loving freedom, and of the sweetness that no one can deprive you of: the smell of jasmine and rich cigarettes.
The animated feature is highly impressionistic, fades in and out portrays clinical depression, homelessness, fury, death, and torture in a way that such they’re not required to be shown in order to be shocking.
A great bit of voice casting is real-life mother and daughter Catherine Denuve and Chiara Mastroiani voicing the protagonist’s mother and little “Marji” herself.
The soundtrack is also wonderful, Olivier Bernet’s strings manage to convey whimsy, depression, dreams, and tears in a way that perfectly complements the visuals. In fact, it distinctly made “Eye of the Tiger” seem to be an 80’s re-interpretation of the message of “We The Living” - and that’s saying something
It’s a lovely film, just as powerful and tragic as “Life is Beautiful” but rendered from a Middle Eastern perspective.
If it’s playing in your town, do not miss the chance to enjoy this special film.