Marjane Satrapi, the feisty Iranian heroine of the marvelous animated movie Persepolis, is animated in more ways than one. The young woman — the autobiographical creation of actual feisty Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi — is sketched in the same bold illustration style that characterizes Satrapi’s internationally adored graphic novels about her life during Iran’s Islamic revolution. And the heroine herself is a restless soul who refuses to conform. Even under the head scarf she’s required to wear when the theocrats take over, Marjane is a rebel witha love of punk music and a need to make her own mistakes, on her own timetable, never mind the mullahs. Voiced by Chiara Mastroianni in French — Satrapi herself lives in Paris now — she’s the most fully drawn female character in movies this year, only black and white and flat all over.
Of course, the personal rebellion of any strong-willed young person from any culture makes a good story; the movies are full of them. But the sassy, nonchalant juxtaposition of political and personal specificity in Persepolis is a marvel. So, too, is the ingenuity and fluidity with which Satrapi and her cartooning codirector, Vincent Paronnaud, bring her book pages to life. Satrapi doesn’t shy from the violent shocks that tore her home country apart, but neither does she settle for generalizations or prescriptive conclusions. As in Satrapi’s own life, the animated Marjane lives through the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Islamic revolution, through war and repression. An outspoken daughter from a progressive family, she is sent to Austria as a teenager by her parents to get away from the regime’s worst restrictions, but European dislocation makes discontent worse; she returns to Iran and tries to fit in before leaving again, for good, to France.
What Marjane (the creator as well as the character) knows is that she needs to find a place, both within the world and within herself, where she can feel at home. Sexual confidence (and a capacity to choose the right man rather than the wrong one) is hard-won. Fortunately, she has the support of an empathic mother (Mastroianni’s maman, Catherine Deneuve) and a role model of feminist elegance in her grandmother (voiced with delicious warmth by the redoubtable Danielle Darrieux). She has her music. And she retains her sense of humor: The movie sparkles with witty self-awareness.
Persepolis is the stylistic opposite of a glossily modern animation. It’s determinedly 2-D, and (as Satrapi once explained in an interview) much more interested in the influences of German expressionism and Italian neorealism than in the possibilities of digital modernity. Yet that simplicity is also the movie’s strength, the key to its multigenerational accessibility. Cool young girls will love this — as will grown-ups wise enough to absorb the truth of the wise women’s movement slogan ”The personal is political.” A