Persepolis – hope is not dead

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From Japan we move on to Iran for a less innocent and cutesy coming-of-age story of a young woman raised in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. While this movie offered a lot of insight in female issues in Iran, it was way more than that; a tale of loss due to war and a tale about the price of freedom. The distinction between the liberal Western political views and the Eastern ones become clear when the main character, Marjane, befriends some free-spirited anarchists at a French school in Vienna.

Marjane was anti-Shah, that much was clear from the beginning of the movie. Her school indoctrinated positive feelings towards Shah, but her family, especially her uncle Anouch, make it clear to her that Shah is not chosen by God himself but a mere tiran. It couldn’t possibly get worse than that, right? Everything will be great when Shah gets bumped from power. That optimistic revolutionary view turned into a bitter pill when Iran is ruled by Islamic fundamentalists and yet establishes a tyranny that forces women to cover their hair and body and take away their pop culture, make up and music. There is a scene where men are selling forbidden things to Marjane: make-up, Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, and Iron Maiden, which Marjane gladly buys and Iron Maiden becomes her national anthem. She emancipates herself and protests the establishment by rocking clothes with obscene texts (punk is not ded) on them and sports Nike sneakers. A young girl that realizes that no one ought to dictate how we dress and that we should always stay true to ourselves and this mindset never changes. Sure, in order not to be taken captive by the scary men with guns on the street, it’s important to wear your veil but when you’re driving in the car with your girlfriends and blasting music, the veil goes bye bye while her friends laugh at the nerve. It may be a small act of rebellion; but those small acts all amount to something, albeit a personal rather than public victory.

Persepolis (2007) takes place in three cities: Teheran, Vienna and Paris. The first part of the movie shows her early life in Teheran and the rise of the Islamic Republic. When she pisses off her religion teacher by schooling them on propaganda, she gets shipped off to Vienna, where she could become a free, emancipated woman, as per her mom’s wishes. Sure, Iran had become a totalitarian state that took away all the freedom women had, that did not mean Marjane had to suffer under that regime. She was young, smart and opiniated. Surely she’d find success in a world with Western values.

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But not even someone who was so against the fundamentalists values in Iran could adapt to the liberal Western lifestyle that easily. She had a hard time making friends as no one understood her before she went to a French school. Her mom’s friend that promised to host her shipped her off to a Christian convent (oh the irony of escaping one fundamentalist country and ending up in a convent with nuns where yet again her freedom is restrained). She feels lonely as she’s trying to find her place in Vienna. And we can all relate to that feeling of moving somewhere new and it feels like everyone is speaking another language. And sometimes they literally are, like in this case. And worse, it’s German.

Her family back in Iran was mainly communist. Her uncle Anouch specialized in Marxist-Leninism and even til his dying day in prison he told Marjane that the proletariat will rule. Anoush laid the foundation for her love for Marjane’s belief in communism. My knowledge about Iran is extremely minimal. I know there’s a totalitarian theocratic regime going on that restricts the freedom of women and most likely men as well. So if I sound ignorant; I am going on my Western prejudice. Anyhow, I never knew that communism was a big thing in Iran, but around the revolution it seemed that people really wanted an establishment of a communist regime. and that is what took their lives. However, Marjane’s hippie friends are anarchists who say that politics is something absurd adapted by man to fill the void of life. They were nihilists and Marjane took that badly, juxtaposing it next to her background in Iran were people were killed due to their political beliefs; who gave their lives for the freedom of their generation and the next. She is not afraid to call people out on their bullshit and sexism and that is what makes her so powerful.

After being forced out of the convent by running her mouth, she goes from house to house and ends up in a villa with a Swiss woman and her dog who thinks she’s a hooker and eventually accuses her of stealing her broche. But she could literally not have done so at a worse time; Marjane is wallowing on her bed after she caught her seemingly perfect boyfriend cheating on her while bringing him croissants. Isn’t that the worst way to catch someone cheating? You’re providing someone with croissants. The ultimate act of love. You do not expect to find someone you’re bringing croissants in bed with another woman. There should be a law against that. And then we see flashbacks of the gross pimply cheapskate cowardly jackass that he actually was. We all romanticize our boyfriends at the height of our relationships. It takes another woman in their bed to see them for who they truly are.

After her post-cheating boyfriend and post-being accused of stealing a broche by the damn woman with her damn dog she flees to the streets and seeks refuge there but doesn’t seem to find it. She walks the streets and feels empty, alone and literally sick. While she’s in the hospital recovering from bronchitis, she calls up her family and asks if she can move home; no questions asked. So, the leaves the Free World of Europe to return to Iran, where the war is finally over. However, she comes back and finds everything has changed. She feels alienated from her family and her youth friends and many people close to her have lost their lives. The state is as repressive as ever and her character has never changed. However, at some time she needs to get her shit together and go to University. What could go wrong at University? Sexist dress codes! She does meet a boy though, and she ends up marrying him for about a year until she realizes it was probably more an infatuation than real love and infatuations never last so she divorces; against the advice of her friend.

Her mom tells her it’s time to be a free, emancipated woman in Europe again and ships her off to Paris and tells her to never come back to Iran because how it is right now, it’s not the right place for her. And that’s how the movie ends, on a hopeful note. We do know that the character in question will become successful so it’s not a mystery ending but a beautiful picture regardless.

The drawing style of this movie was unique. Black and white with hints of color; when arriving in Vienna, when returning to Teheran & finally when arriving in Paris. Color marks a new beginning, or a return to the familiar to begin anew there. The themes recurring in the movie are girlhood, repression, war, loss, love, family, politics and most importantly: freedom.

Between God and Karl Marx speaking to her she loses, and finds herself and loses herself and finds herself again because life is not a lineair process. We do not lose ourselves once and then find ourselves and then live happily ever after. We are continually re-inventing ourselves according to the circumstances. Being free in Teheran is different than being free in Paris. Circumstances are integral to freedom but in the end, freedom comes from within. You always make a choice. Always (hear that, Sartre?), as grannie tells wisely. Marjane chooses to not conform to the restrictions imposed upon her freedom in modern day Iran but rather to find her freedom in Europe. But she also needed to find her freedom from within. The movie ends with the taxi driver asking where she is from and she answers: Iran. And this moment is really important because it marks her internal freedom. Before, she told lies about her being French to avoid the awkwardness that came with revealing her true nationality. However, her grandma’s words haunted her as soon as she said it. She was to be true to herself. She must always have integrity. Because that is where true freedom lies.

So not only was she able to find freedom in her circumstances but also within herself and that’s why the movie ends on a hopeful note with what seems to be a standard ‘time to finish the movie and i don’t know what to end with’ piece of dialogue at first.

‘So what did you think of the movie?’

‘amazing’.

 

Persepolis is an autobiographical movie directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud and was released in 2007. 

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