Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Movie review: Persepolis ****

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Marjane Satrapi may be the only person standing between Brad Bird and an Oscar for Ratatouille.

Satrapi has turned her graphic novels about growing up in Iran into the movie Persepolis, opening today in Toledo. One of three Academy Award nominees for animated feature, it s an artistic, emotional, and historical marvel.

The author and Vincent Paronnaud, who shares writing and directing credit, compress her history and a personal portrait of Iran during the Islamic Revolution into a 95-minute feature. Employing an animation style they call stylized realism, they flesh out characters in ways bolder and sharper than many live-action features.

The title refers to the ancient Persian capital, and it s meant to remind moviegoers that Iran has a grand, complex history that stretches far beyond the news images of the past three decades.

Except for very short scenes, set at the Paris airport and bookending the movie, the film is in black and white, using striking illustrations done by hand. Satrapi developed and drew 600 distinct figures as templates that were then used by designers and animators.

Most of the story is told in flashback, as we first meet Marjane in 1978 Tehran as a spitfire who marches around her apartment chanting, Down with the shah!

We watch her and her extended family progressive parents, a wise, gutsy grandmother, favorite uncles try to weather the oppression, deprivation, domination, and war that rock their world.

Rebellion and freedom thrive in secretive fashion, as underground parties allow liquor to flow and women to shuck their body-hiding garments and dance. Marjane surreptitiously buys Iron Maiden tapes and writes the misspelled Punk Is Not Ded on her jacket.

A classroom outburst about a hundred-fold increase in political prisoners brings a call from the principal to her parents. They decide to send Marjane to school in Vienna, which proves both liberating a store stocked with goods that vanished in Iran and lacerating to the spirit.

An exhausted return from exile brings family reunions but more confusion and unhappiness as Marjane must sort out her loyalties and her life.



Animation has never been a more sophisticated tool for storytelling, and Persepolis takes the form in a daring direction. It does so with the voices of Gabrielle Lopes and Chiara Mastroianni as Marjane, Catherine Deneuve as her mother, and Danielle Darrieux as her grandmother.

The movie, rated PG-13 and suitable for mature teens, deals with subjects universal and specific. A growth spurt, a broken heart, and the safety net of a supportive family cross cultural and geographic lines; living in a society where a young woman is told not to run because it makes her backside look obscene does not.

In Persepolis, Satrapi and Paronnaud transport us to a time, from the late 1970s to the mid- 90s, a place and a mind-set. It delivers Marjane to freedom and shows what shaped her as an artist and writer, but not the resulting success.

In a way, the movie serves that function, although it seems to be missing a chapter, along with an update on the parents who guided her through the tumult. Still, a visit to Persepolis is personal, passionate and revolutionary.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Barbara Vancheri is movie editor of the Post-Gazette.

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