It's often been said that comedy comes from tragedy. That might explain the moments of biting humor found in the Oscar-nominated movie Persepolis.
Animated almost exclusively in black and white, this graphic novel brought to film is the autobiographical story of Marjane Satrapi, a comic artist, writer, illustrator and author of children's books. In it, she tells of her life as a young Iranian girl (voiced at different ages by Gabrielle Lopes Benites, Gabrielle Lopes and Chiara Mastroianni) born in a politically minded family shortly before the fall of the Shah. As a child, she imagines becoming a prophet. But in the meantime her outspoken, puckish nature leads to less saintly activities like threatening to rake other children with a fistful of nails.
While her interactions seem anything but playful, they are easier to understand considering the oppressive, war torn state in which she lives. However when the Shah is ousted, political unrest escalates. Arrests, executions and bombings become commonplace. Street riots turn bloody. Worried for her safety, Marjane's parents (voiced by Catherine Deneuve and Simon Abkarian) send her to school in Vienna. But there, the young teen is shuffled from house to house until she finally ends up on the streets. Exposed to the drug culture and underground society, she loses her virginity and is ultimately reduced to eating garbage. Finally, buffeted and beaten by life in Europe, she returns to Iran to find a country more repressed than ever.
At times, the high contrast animation style only emphasizes the harshness of Marjane's life as favorite relatives are murdered for opposing political views and her mother is attacked and publicly humiliated by a zealot of the reigning regime. Still, despite their severe surroundings, the family maintains their personal integrity thanks in part to the wise influence of Marjane's grandmother (voiced by Danielle Darrieux).
Because of frequent profanities, abundant amounts of sexual and anatomical discussions, illegal drug use and the detailed portrayal of war violence, Persepolis is a film parents will want to consider carefully before showing to their older teens. Yet Marjane, who co-directed and co-wrote the screenplay, tells her story with insight and comic candor. Although not suitable for all audiences, Persepolis brings a plainspoken personal perspective to the upheaval rocking the Middle East that will likely spark plenty of political discussion.