Saturday, September 5, 2009


I don't read many graphic novels. Even as a child comic books never were my thing. In recent years the graphic novel has become a respected genre, and some truly talented writers have made use of the medium to convey their stories on both the visual, and written levels. I'm willing to give stories told via graphic novel a shot, and sometimes I click with them, sometimes not.

Persepolis is the first animated film I've watched based on a graphic novel. It is the deeply personal story of an Iranian woman, growing up in Iran. Her memories of the revolution, the war, being sent to Vienna as a teen, and eventually returning to her country. The story is told in French, with English subtitles and fittingly enough the animated story, told in panels similar to a graphic novel, truly suits subtitles. If anything, watching with subtitles draws you into the story more.

My husband and I watched it this evening, and it was a very engaging story. Sometimes tragic, and sometimes daring to be funny, the most surprising thing about Persepolis is what it concentrates upon. It manages to be both large in scope, and extremely focused on personal details.

Also, as an American I'm used to processing Iran through the American experience with Iran, particularly when it comes to the revolution there. It was fascinating to see this viewpoint, in which the U.S. is barely mentioned, and never by name. This isn't a story about the revolution, or the war, or even a woman's reaction to diminished freedoms. It is all of that, but it is also simply a story of living, the small details we all have in common, regardless of our surroundings.

It was amazing to see both how little, and how much I have in common with this woman in terms of the simple experience of growing up, harnessing personal power, becoming comfortable with self, and even risking happiness.

If you haven't seen the movie, it is available on DVD and I'd highly recommend it. As my husband said afterward, it was entertaining, but it also gave him a sense of having learned something. It's often a stirring experience, and even if you have absolutely nothing in common with the protagonist, chances are you will discover a small piece of commonality.

It also reminded me of something, and this does tie into a theme in the movie. During the Iran Hostage Crisis, my father, who taught history at the college level, had several Iranian students. He would invite them to our home for coffee during that long period. These young men weren't part of the revolution, they were quietly displaced students, living in an area of the country not best known for being diverse. It wasn't until I was an adult that I understood my father's gesture, making the students welcome in his home at a time when it was not a popular thing to do. It was simply the right thing.

The movie Persepolis celebrates small acts of bravery in challenging times. Including the courage it takes to leave a place you love, and never return.

In a way, it is how we all look back at our childhoods, regardless of the different circumstances.


Jennifer D said...

I enjoyed Persepolis as well. It is a relief to learn something about Iran that isn't about war or America.

Land of shimp said...

Relief is exactly the right word, Jennifer. I've seen a couple of films told from an Iranian perspective but this one was the only film I've seen that incorporated humor into the story.

It was interesting to see a film that wasn't put through a specific filter, honing it for a foreign audience to help them better understand Iran. Even the Iranians I've known, and I've known only a handful, seem to temper their stories about the country with the audience in mind.

This story was simply this woman's story, and I didn't feel as if was trying to bring me a better understanding of anything other than Marji's personal experience.

It was a micro view of things, and it was in contrast to the macro sort of stories I've seen, and read in the past.