Theatrical release poster
by Marjane Satrapi
|Music by||Olivier Bernet|
|Edited by||Stéphane Roche|
|Distributed by||Diaphana Distribution|
Sony Pictures Classics
|Budget||$7.3 million|
|Box office||$22.8 million|
Persepolis is a 2007 adult animated film based upon the Marjane Satrapi autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. It was written and directed by Satrapi in collaboration with Vincent Paronnaud. The story follows a young girl as she comes of age against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. The title references the historical city of Persepolis.
The film was an international co-production made by companies in France and Iran. It premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, where it co-won the Jury Prize, alongside Silent Light. In her acceptance speech, Satrapi said "Although this film is universal, I wish to dedicate the prize to all Iranians." It was released in France and Belgium on 27 June 2007, earning universal praise by critics. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, but lost to Ratatouille.
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At an airport in France, an Iranian woman, Marjane 'Marji' Satrapi, looks at the flight schedule; her eyes come to rest on a listing bound for Tehran. She then takes a seat, smokes a cigarette, and reflects on her childhood.
As a young girl, Marji lived in Tehran, wanted to be a prophet, and was a big fan of Bruce Lee. When the 1979 Iranian revolution against the Shah of Iran begins, her middle-class family is thrilled and participates in the rallies, though Marji herself is forbidden from attending. One day, Siamak Jari, a friend of the family and the father of Marji's friend Lali, is released from prison. They all listen as he recounts the horrors of prison, and Marji grows jealous of Lali having a real 'hero' in her family.
Some days later, Marji and a group of friends attempt to attack a young boy, Ramine, whose father, a member of SAVAK, the Shah's secret police, had killed Communists and revolutionaries as part of his work. They retrieve nails from a toolbox and chase him, but are stopped by Marji's mother, who punishes Marji. In her room, God tells Marji that Ramine's father's crimes are not Ramine's fault. Marji walks up to Ramine the next day to say she forgives him for his father being a 'murderer' but Ramine staunchly defends his father and angrily rides away on his bike.
One day, Marji's uncle Anoosh arrives to have dinner with the family after recently being released from a nine-year prison sentence. Marji is ecstatic to meet him as he is the very sort of family 'hero' she wants to have. Anoosh inspires Marji with his stories of his life on the run from the government.
The Shah is deposed and elections for a new leading power commence. Marji's family's situation does not improve, in spite of Anoosh's optimism, and they are profoundly upset when Islamic Fundamentalists 'win' the elections with 99.99% of the vote and start repressing Iranian society, imposing strict Islamic law. The government forces women to dress modestly and wear headscarves, and Anoosh is rearrested and executed for his political beliefs, as are other political dissenters Marji has come to know, while Siamak flees with his family after his sister is killed in his place. Many of the family's friends, as well as thousands of Iranians, flee the new regime to Europe or the USA. Upset that God did nothing to prevent her beloved uncle's execution, Marji rejects her faith.
Profoundly disillusioned, Marji tries, with her family, to adapt to life under the new regime. The Iran–Iraq War breaks out and Marji sees for herself the horrors of death and destruction. The Iranian government begins implementing laws that create blatant injustices and cut down even more on social freedoms. Marji's father is threatened by corrupt, rifle-wielding teenage government officials.
Later, one of her uncles, Taher, has a heart attack. He needs open-heart surgery, and since Iran does not have the equipment, he must go to England. But since the borders are closed, only very sick people approved by the Board of Health can leave. When the uncle's wife attempts to get permission, she finds that the hospital director she must deal with is her former window-washer; incompetent and totally submissive to his religion, he refuses to allow the uncle to travel abroad.
Marjane and her father go to see Khosro, a man who prints fake passports. He tells them he can make the passport in a week. Khosro is sheltering a relative named Niloufar, an 18-year-old wanted for her Communist beliefs, to whom Marjane takes an instant liking. Later, Niloufar is spotted and promptly arrested and executed; Khosro's house is ransacked in the process. Khosro flees without making the passport. Marji watches as her uncle eventually dies from his heart problems. His official passport arrives on the day of his death. The family tries to find solace in secret parties where they enjoy simple pleasures the government has outlawed, including alcohol.
As she grows up, Marji begins a life of overconfidence. She refuses to stay out of trouble, secretly buying Western heavy metal music, notably Iron Maiden, on the black market, wearing unorthodox clothing such as a denim jacket, and celebrating punk rock and other Western music sensations like Michael Jackson. She is nearly taken into custody by female Guardians of the Revolution but escapes by lying. Marji is expelled from school when she openly rebuts a teacher's lies about the abuses of the government.
Fearing her arrest for her outspokenness, Marji's parents send her to a French lycée in Vienna, Austria, where she can be safe and free to express herself. She lives with Catholic nuns and is upset by their discriminatory and judgmental behavior. Marji makes few friends, and ultimately feels intolerably isolated in a foreign land surrounded by annoyingly superficial people who take their freedom for granted and view her with open disdain. As the years go by, she is thrown out of her temporary shelter for insulting a nun.
Marji continues to go from house to house until she arrives at the house of Frau Dr. Schloss, an unstable former philosophy teacher. One night, her grandmother's voice resonates, telling her to stay true to herself as she leaves a party after lying to an acquaintance that she was French. Her would-be lover, Enrique, reveals his homosexuality after a failed attempt at sex with Marji. She engages in a passionate love affair with Markus, a debonair native, which ends badly when she discovers him cheating on her. Marji is then accused of stealing Schloss's brooch, and finally leaves. She spends the day on a park bench, reflecting upon how 'stupid' she has been, and realizes she has nowhere else left to go. She lives on the street for a few months. Eventually, she contracts bronchitis and almost dies.
Marji recovers in a Viennese hospital and returns to Iran with her family's permission, hoping that the conclusion of the war will improve their quality of life. After spending several days wasting her time watching television, Marji falls into clinical depression. She attempts suicide by overdosing on medication. She falls asleep and dreams of God and Karl Marx reminding her what is important and encouraging her to live. Her determination is renewed and she begins enjoying life again.
Marji attends university classes and parties. She enters into a relationship with a fellow student, Reza. Iranian society is more tyrannical than ever. Mass executions for political beliefs and petty religious absurdities have become common, much to Marji's dismay. She and her boyfriend are caught holding hands and their parents are forced to pay a fine to avoid their lashing.
Despite Iranian society making life as a student and a woman intolerable, Marji remains rebellious. She resorts to survival tactics to protect herself, such as falsely accusing a man of insulting her to avoid being arrested for wearing makeup and marrying her boyfriend to avoid scrutiny by the religious police. Her grandmother is disappointed by Marji's behavior and berates her, telling her that both her grandfather and her uncle died supporting freedom and innocent people and that she should never forsake them or her family by sacrificing her integrity. Realizing her mistake, Marji delivers a speech at a gathering at the university, and her grandmother is pleased to hear that she openly confronted the blatantly sexist double standard in her university's forum on public morality.
The fundamentalist police, however, manage to discover and raid a party that Marji attends. While the women are detained (having just barely managed to cover themselves up, they ultimately avoid punishment), the men escape across the rooftops. One of them, Nima, hesitates before jumping, consequently falling to his death. After Nima's death and her divorce, Marji's family decides that she should leave the country permanently to avoid being targeted by the Iranian authorities as a political dissident. Before leaving, she takes a trip to the Caspian Sea and visits the graves of her grandfather and uncle. Marji's mother forbids her to return, and Marji agrees. She never again sees her grandmother, who dies soon after her departure.
Marji collects her luggage and gets into a taxi. As the taxi drives away from the south terminal of Paris-Orly Airport, the narrative cuts back to the present day. The driver asks Marjane where she is from and she replies "Iran", keeping the promise she made to Anoosh and her grandmother that she would remember where she came from and always stay true to herself. She recalls her final memory of her grandmother telling her how she placed jasmine in her brassiere to smell lovely every day.
The film is presented in the black-and-white style of the original graphic novels. Satrapi explains in a bonus feature on the DVD that this was so the place and the characters wouldn't look like foreigners in a foreign country but simply people in a country to show how easily a country can become like Iran. The present-day scenes are shown in color, while sections of the historic narrative resemble a shadow theater show. The design was created by art director and executive producer Marc Jousset. The animation is credited to the Perseprod studio and was created by two specialized studios, Je Suis Bien Content and Pumpkin 3D.
- French version
- Gabriele Lopes as child Marjane
- Danielle Darrieux as Grandmother
- Simon Abkarian as Father
- François Jerosme as Uncle Anoush
- English version
- Amethyste Frezignac as child Marjane
- Gena Rowlands as Grandmother
- Sean Penn as Father
- Iggy Pop as Uncle Anoush
- Mathilde Merlot as Tina / First Voice
Animation and design
Directed by Christian Desmares, the film was produced by a total of twenty animators. Initially opposed to producing an animated movie due to the high level of difficulty, producers Marc-Antoine Robert and Xavier Regault gave protagonist, Marjane Satrapi, alternative options of film production to avoid animation. As admitted by producer Robert, "I know the new generation of French comic book artists quite well, and I'm afraid of Marjane's. I offered to write an original script for her, because I didn't want to work on an animated movie at all...I knew how complicated it was". And yet, despite the difficulty, the producers followed through with Satrapi's wishes and focused on interpreting her life story as depicted in her novel Persepolis, ""With live-action, it would have turned into a story of people living in a distant land who don't look like us," Satrapi says. "At best, it would have been an exotic story, and at worst, a 'third-world' story".
The animation team worked alongside Satrapi to gain a detailed understanding of the types of graphic images she deemed necessary for accuracy. Following her guidelines, the animators, such as interviewee Marc Jousset, commented on their use of the "tradition animation techniques" Satrapi requested to keep the drawings simple and avoid the "more high-tech techniques" that "would look dated". Satrapi's vision, according to Jousset, involved a lot of focus on the characters' natural, humane physical imperfections.
During their initial stages of production, the animation team attempted to use 2D image techniques "on pen tablets," but were immediately unsatisfied with the product due to the lack of definition, Jousset has said. Applying traditional techniques as simple as paper and ink to the production allowed Satrapi to use methods she was familiar with. As a result, Satrapi crafted an image depiction she, herself, would recognize as her own work, and thus, her own story. "It was clear that a traditional animation technique was perfectly suited to Marjane's and Vincent's idea of the film".
Choosing black and white as the film's dominant colors was an intentional choice by Satrapi, along with the director and animation team, to continue on the path of traditional animation techniques. Despite its simplicity, members of the animation team such as Jousset discussed how black and white makes imperfections more obvious: "Using only black and white in an animation movie requires a great deal of discipline. From a technical point of view, you can't make any mistakes...it shows up straight away on the large screen". In addition to color display, the animation team worked especially hard on techniques that mimicked the styles of Japanese cartoonists, known as "manga," and translating them into their own craft of "a specific style, both realistic and mature. No bluffing, no tricks, nothing overcooked". According to Jousset, "Marjane had quite an unusual way of working...Marjane insisted on being filmed playing out all the scenes...it was a great source of information for the animators, giving them an accurate approach to how they should work". With this in mind, the animators commented on the immense hardships they faced when creating each image of "1,200 shots" through Satrapi's perspective because even though "Marjane's drawings looked very simple and graphic...they're very difficult to work on because there are so few identifying marks. Realistic drawings require outstanding accuracy". Despite the difficulties in working with animation film, however, Satrapi's drive and determination to make the film motivated the animators to finish each graphic image with full accuracy. Following alongside a more traditional style of graphic imagery was not only difficult in terms of drawing, but also in terms of locating a team to draw the images since traditional animators "hardly exist in France anymore". With a group of more than 100 people, though, animator Pascal Chevé confirmed the variety of style each team member brought to the table: "An animator will be more focused on trying to make the character move in the right way. Assistant animators will then put the final touches to the drawings to make sure they're true to the original. Then the 'trace' team comes in, and they work on each drawing with...a felt pen, to ensure that they are consistent with the line that runs throughout the movie".
Although it was hard to craft realistic cartoon drawings, Jousset said the biggest challenge was staying on schedule and within budget of "6 million Euros, which is reasonable for a 2D movie made in France", but that "I think the culmination of the fact that it was a true story, that the main character worked with you, that an animated movie dealt with a current issue and that it was intended for adults was tremendously exciting for the team".
The film was critically acclaimed. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 96% approval rating with an average rating of 8.18/10, based on 161 reviews. The site's consensus reads: "Persepolis is an emotionally powerful, dramatically enthralling autobiographical gem, and the film's simple black-and-white images are effective and bold". Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 90 out of 100, based on 31 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
International government reaction
The film has drawn complaints from the Iranian government. Even before its debut at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, the government-connected Iran Farabi Foundation sent a letter to the French embassy in Tehran reading, "This year the Cannes Film Festival, in an unconventional and unsuitable act, has chosen a movie about Iran that has presented an unrealistic face of the achievements and results of the glorious Islamic Revolution in some of its parts." Despite such objections, the Iranian cultural authorities relented in February 2008 and allowed limited screenings of the film in Tehran, albeit with six scenes censored due to sexual content.
In June 2007 in Thailand, the film was dropped from the lineup of the Bangkok International Film Festival. Festival director Chattan Kunjara na Ayudhya said, "I was invited by the Iranian embassy to discuss the matter and we both came to mutual agreement that it would be beneficial to both countries if the film was not shown" and "It is a good movie in artistic terms, but we have to consider other issues that might arise here."
Persepolis was initially banned in Lebanon after some clerics found it "offensive to Iran and Islam." The ban was later revoked after an outcry in Lebanese intellectual and political circles.
On 7 October 2011, the film was shown on the Tunisian private television station Nessma. A day later a demonstration formed and marched on the station. The main Islamic party in Tunisia, Ennahda, condemned the demonstration. Nabil Karoui, the owner of Nessma TV, faced trial in Tunis on charges of "violating sacred values" and "disturbing the public order." He was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine of 2,400 dinars ($1,700; £1,000), a much more lenient punishment than predicted. Amnesty International said that criminal proceedings against Karoui are an affront to freedom of expression.
In the United States, a group of parents from the Northshore School District, Washington, objected to adult content in the film and graphic novel, and lobbied to discontinue it as part of the curriculum. The Curriculum Materials Adoption Committee felt that "other educational goals—such as that children should not be sheltered from what the board and staff called 'disturbing' themes and content—outweighed the crudeness and parental prerogative."
- Nominated: Best Animated Feature. Additionally, it is the first traditionally animated nominee since 2005's Howl's Moving Castle. It was also France's Best Foreign Language Film entry, but was not nominated.
- Nominated: Best Foreign Language Film
- Nominated: Best Animated Feature
- Nominated: Directing in an Animated Feature Production
- Nominated: Music in an Animated Feature Production
- Nominated: Writing in an Animated Feature Production
- Won: Best First Feature Film (Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi)
- Won: Best Writing – Adaptation (Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi)
- Nominated: Best Editing (Stéphane Roche)
- Nominated: Best Film
- Nominated: Best Music Written for a Film (Olivier Bernet)
- Nominated: Best Sound (Samy Bardet, Eric Chevallier and Thierry Lebon)
- Nominated: Best Film
- Won: Best Film
- 2007 London Film Festival
- Southerland Trophy (Grand prize of the festival)
- Special Jury Prize
- Won: Best Foreign Language Film
- Won: Rogers People's Choice Award for Most Popular International Film
- 2009 Silver Condor Awards
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- Persepolis at the Big Cartoon DataBase
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- Persepolis Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine on the official site of the Cannes Film Festival
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- "Film Education" (PDF). filmeducation.org. 2008. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
- "Persepolis (2007)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
- "Persepolis (2007): Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 4 February 2008.
- Corliss, Richard (24 December 2007). "The 10 Best Movies". Time: 40.
- "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema | 58. Persepolis". Empire.
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- "Rare Iran screening for controversial film 'Persepolis'". Agence France-Presse. 14 February 2008. Archived from the original on 22 May 2008.
- "Thailand pulls Iranian cartoon from film festival". Reuters. 27 June 2007.
- "LEBANON: Iran revolution film 'Persepolis' unbanned". Los Angeles Times. 28 March 2008.
- "Protesters attack TV station over film Persepolis". BBC News. 9 October 2011.
- "Tunisia fines TV channel owner over controversial film". BBC News. 3 May 2012.
- Minovitz, Ethan (23 January 2012). "Tunisia urged to drop charges over 'Persepolis'". Big Cartoon News. Archived from the original on 16 December 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
- Woodinville Weekly[permanent dead link] "Persepolis"
- Hohenadel, Kristin (21 January 2007). "An Animated Adventure, Drawn From Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- Thompson, N. P. (26 January 2008). "Iranian life in cartoon motion". Northwest Asian Weekly. Seattle. Archived from the original on 30 November 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- Satrapi, Marjane (February 2008). "Marjane Satrapi". ION Magazine (Interview). Interviewed by Michael Mann. Vancouver: ION Publishing. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- DePaul, Amy (5 February 2008). "Man with a Country: Amy DePaul interviews Seyed Mohammad Marandi". Guernica. New York. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
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