Persepolis (2008)

 

 

Director:     Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi.

Starring:     Chiara Mastroianni (Marjane 'Marji' Satrapi, as a teenager and a woman, voice), Catherine Deneuve (Mrs. Satrapi - Marjane's mother, voice), Danielle Darrieux (Marjane's grandmother, voice), Simon Abkarian (Mr. Satrapi - Marjane's father, voice), Gabrielle Lopes Benites (Marjane as a child, voice), François Jerosme (Uncle Anouche, voice), Sophie Arthuys (voice), Jean-François Gallotte, Arié Elmaleh (voice), Mathias Mlekuz (voice).

animated film; Satrapi's coming of age in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Airport,  Paris-Orly, France.  A woman named Marji looks up on the board at the departure times.  She sees the flight for Teheran.  She puts on her headscarf.  The woman at the sign-in desk asks for her ticket and passport.  Evidently, she doesn't have her passporit and is crestfallen.  Looking very dejected, she sits in the smoking lounge smoking. 

Flashback.  Mother tells Marji to stop running, but Marji doesn't stop until she jumps up on a young woman.  The little girl starts asking how was Paris and the Eiffel Tower?  An older man welcomes the woman to Teheran saying for his little group:  "We've missed you."

As narrator Marji says:  "I remember.  I led a peaceful, uneventful existence back then as an average little girl.  I love French fries with ketchup, Bruce Lee was my idol, I wore Adidas sneakers, and had two major obsessions:  being able to shave my legs one day and becoming the last prophet in the galaxy."

Teheran 1978.  At a party a woman says when she got permission to go see him last week.  He was in an awfully bad shape.  He has been in detention for four years now.  A man, named Ebi, her brother-in-law, tells her not to worry because the regime in Iran is going to collapse one of these days.  A little girl named Laly comes running up to the woman saying that cousin Marji kicked her in the head.  Ebi says let's see if Marji can take a little of the medicine she hands out.  Marji sneaks back in amongst the party goers. 

At school Marjane tells her grandmother that, as a future prophet, she has decided the best rules of behavior.  She spouts them out to grandmother, who says she wants to be Marjane's first disciple.  Mother comes into the room wondering was is all the shouting about outside their place?  They open a window and the shouts can be heard clearly:  "Down with the Shah!"  A man runs in and starts twirling Marji around asking:  "Do you realize we are witnessing an historic moment?"

Marji says that the Shah will finally pay for what he did to them.  "At last, your father will be avenged."  Maji is confused because she was taught in school that God appointed the Shah to his position.  She says:  "God told me so Himself."  The man shushes Marji and tells her he will tell her the whole story. 

50 years ago.  The Shah's father was a military officer and he wanted to overthrow the Qadjar emperor and establish a republic.  He also wanted to modernize Iran.  The British urged that the military man become an emperor.  The Brits remind him that the clergy is against a republic.  The military man asks what does he have to do?  The British say nothing.  "Just give us the oil and we shall take care of the rest."  So the Shah's father becomes the king.  One good thing about this is that the king did modernize Iran.  The man loved his country, "unlike his son who succeeded him".  The Shah's father was brutal and he was the one that put Marji's grandfather into prison. 

"But his son was ten times worse."  Marji, however, is still stuck on her grandfather having been in jail.  Grandmother says that grandfather was a Qadjar prince.  The Shah stripped him of all he had.   Mom says that the main reason grandfather was in jail is because he was a communist. 

The riot police with gas masks on push the rock-throwing crowd back and back.  People start running away.  Tanks are brought forward.  Then the police shoot a young fellow.  Dad and mom return home telling grandmother that the police opened fire on the crowd.  Grandmother is just relieved that they made it back.  Dad says that Tadji and he ran, but they were cornered by the soldiers.  They grabbed the film from Dad's camera.  And they were held at the police station for hours. 

Marji imitates the protestors.  With a headband, she marches around the room shouting:  "Down with the Shaw!"

On television, the Shah says they will start gradually building a democracy for the future.  A statue of the Shah is torn down by the people.

One day Siamak shows up at the family door.  Ebi, is shocked to see him out of prison.  The two men hug each other.  Marji's cousin comes in saying that her father was in prison and he's a hero. 

Siamak tells about the torture he had to endure while in prison.  And his torturers were trained by the American CIA.  Ebi asks what happened to Hamid?  Siamak calmly says he was assassinated.  The man was tortured to death. 

Outside Marji tells her playmates that whoever loses the game will be tortured to death.  A boy named Ramine comes racing by them.  Marji says that Ramine's father was a member of the Shah's secret police.  So she decides to take vengeance on Ramine.  A little later, she has Marji and her playmates, with nails stuck between their fingers, racing after Ramine.  Fortunately, she is stopped by her mother who is very mad at her daughter for leading a group of little vigilantes. 

Marji has to sit alone in her room.  She hears the voice of God scolding her for what she was about to do.  Poor Ramine never killed anyone.  "His father's crimes aren't his doing."  He adds:  "Your duty is to forgive."

The next day Marji stops Ramine on his bike and says she forgives him because only his father is a murderer.  An angry Ramine yells:  "He's not a murderer!  He only killed communists and communists are evil."

As narrator, adult Marji says that after the Shah fell, the country was in a state of euphoria for a while.  Those traitors of the past now became heroes.  It was at this time that Uncle Anoush came into Marji's life.  At dinner Uncle Anoush told the family that now things will be better.  Marji asks if he was in prison.  Yes, for nine years.  Mom sends Marji to bed.  Anoush tells mom and dad that he's optimistic about the election coming up.  He has faith in the people saying they will support a democracy. 

Marji is in bed now and wants to hear the story about Uncle Anoush.  Anoush tells her the story starting when he was 18 years old.  That year his Uncle Fereydoun and his friend proclaimed independence for the Iranian province of Azerbaijan.  His uncle made himself the minister of justice.  Anoush became his uncle's secretary because they both wanted a republic.  The problem for Anoush was that his own father was loyal to the Shah.  Dad calls his own son a traitor for joining with his idiotic brother.  He says they will both end up with a bullet in their heads. 

And indeed, Fereydoun was executed by a firing squad.  Anoush sees this and runs away.  He walked up into the mountains, fighting snows and blizzards.  He crossed the Alborz Mountains to head to Astara and his parents.  [Wikipedia says the Alborz Mountain is a mountain range in northern Iran stretching from the borders of Azerbaijan and Armenia in the northwest to the southern end of the Caspian Sea, and ending in the east at the borders of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.]  [Astara is located along the southwestern part of the Caspian Sea and bordering the Azerbaijan Republic.]

Anoush arrives at the house, knocks on the door and then collapses.  Mother and father are both glad to see him.  They put him to bed immediately.  Later dad asks for his son's forgiveness for calling him a traitor.  Anoush soon leaves because the Shah's army is looking for him.  He decides to flee to the USSR.  He swims across the Aras River. [The Aras River, one of the largest rivers of the Caucasus, is 666 miles long, and located in and along the countries of Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran.]  He goes to Leningrad and then to Moscow and earns a doctorate in Marxism-Leninism.  He decides to go home because of home sickness and to do so he used a fake passport.  He was caught and thrown into prison. 

The news of the day is that the Islamic Party has been elected with 99.99% percent of the vote.  Anoush takes the news philosophically and says it's only natural to have a period of transition in Iran.  After all, half the public are illiterate.  Taji says that Mina and her family have already left Iran saying it's too dangerous to live in Iran anymore.  They found Moshen drowned in his bath water, while still dressed in his clothes.  On the phone, grandmother say that Siamak and his family fled the country.  "The bastards killed his sister."

Taji tells Ebi that perhaps they should leave the country.  Ebi asks her:  Why?  "So you can be a maid and I can drive a taxi?"

On the television, a spokesman for the government says:  "We'll purge anti-revolutionary elements."

The authorities arrest Anoush.  Uncle can have only one visitor and he asked for Marjii.  So Marjii goes to visit uncle.  She is allowed only ten minutes.  Uncle tells her he's honored that she would visit him and he tells her that if he has a little girl, he hopes she would be like Marjii.

Marjii is very sad.  God visits her but she is mad at him because He didn't stop the authorities from killing her uncle. God tells thatr man is the one responsible for her uncle's death, but Marjii just yells at Him:  "Get out!"

As narrator, Majii says that Iraq attacked Iran one year after their revolution.  At that time Iran was weakened because of all the purges that took place in the army.  The Iranian authorities took advantage of the war and executed the opponents to the Shah's regime.  Everyone was afraid.  And then the government adopted even more repressive laws.  "In just two years time our daily lives changed drastically.  And so had we." 

Majii now has to go to a strict Islamist school.  She has to cover everything up but her face and hands. 

Tehran 1982.  While the woman teacher talks about how girls and women should behave, Majii is showing a classmate a record put out by the Bee Gees.  Then she shows an album by ABBA to two other girls.  An air raid siren goes off.  The girls walkout. 

Starting to leave the grocery store (with near empty shelves) parking lot, an Islamic holy man confronts Taji saying:  "Fix your scarf, sister." Taji tells him that he would be more respectful to her if he would call her "ma'am" rather than "woman". For talking back to him the holy man gets really offensive in his language, cursing out Taji.  Mom knows it's no use talking to this fanatic and she gets in the car with Marjii and drives away. 

At home in bed, the night sky lights up with explosions and anti-aircraft fire.  The family runs down to the basement along with the other families in the apartment building. 

The next day everyone looks at the damage done to Tehran.  Majii is accosted by two Islamic women over her improper dress.  She is wearing western sneakers and her white jacket has a Michael Jackson patch in the front and on the back is the saying:  "Punk is not dead!"   The two women threaten to take her before the committee.  Majii starts begging the women to take pity on her for she has lost her mother, her stepmother is so cruel to her, etc.  The women just walk away from her.  Majii releases a big sigh. 

The news of the day is that the Iranian army destroyed 63 Iraqi tanks and 26 fighter planes. 

Tajii tells Mrs. Nassrine that she looks just awful.  Mrs. Nassrine says that the government is now trying to take her eldest son from her and have him become a martyr fighting for his country.  Dad comes into the room ands says that the authorities found alcohol and playing cards and arrested the Roshanis.  Taji tells the mother to bring her eldest boy to speak to her and her husband.  Mrs. Nassrine does so. 

As narrator, Majii says:  "Thanks to my parents, Mrs. Nassrine's son never went to the front."  She also says that in such a stultifying, puritanical time, neighbors started getting together and having parties to have a good time.  Alcohol was banned, but they drank a lot of alcohol, nevertheless.  Uncle Taher always brought the family wine. 

One day the family is returning from a party and are stopped by some very young and very radical supporters of the regime.  One of the guys threatens to kill dad because he denied that he had been drinking alcohol. Dad starts back-talking to the fellow and mom has to run in to beg the boys not to hurt her husband.    But the radicals follow the family back to their place.  The fellows are going to look for any alcoholic drinks.  The two women run upstairs to get rid of the evidence.  Dad and Marjii come into the room without the guards.  Dad says he gave them some money and they left. 

The family goes to the hospital.  The place is crowded with men and women on gurneys in the hallways.  A neighbor of the family tells them that her husband Uncle Taher had more heart trouble, but the doctor says they can't perform open heart surgery on him because they don't have the equipment.  The hospital director told her that her husband will have to go to England for the operation.  But the man who would give her permission to get a passport says that it's all in God's hands.  The woman recognizes the man as her former window washer.  Then she says some very negative things about the government and the hospital.  Ebi tells the woman that he will pay a visit to a man who makes false passports. 

A young woman comes into the room.  The passport fellows says that this is Nilofaur.  He says that she is a communist too.  Because her brother was his courier, the passport fellow has let Nilofaur hide here. 

The family goes to see a Godzilla film.  Grandmother does not approve of all the killing in the film.

The passport fellow calls Ebi and tells him that the authorities arrested Nilofaur and ransacked his shop.  He can't finish the false passport and is now on the run.   

Nilofaur was executed by hanging.  Khosrow fled to Turkey and then headed to Sweden.  Three weeks later they buried Uncle Taher. 

A missle landed on Baba Levy's house, not far from Marjii's place of residence.  Amidst the rubble Marjii is shocked and saddened to see a wrist with bracelet on it sticking out of the ruins. 

Marjii's teacher says that there are no longer political prisoners in Iran.  Marjii raises her hand to object and the teacher snaps at her:  "Stop interrupting, Satrapi."  Marjii stands anyway and says:  "My uncle was in prison under the Shah, but it was the new regime that had him executed."  She says since the Shah, Iran has gone from 3,000 prisoners to 300,000 prisoners.  The teacher ends the discussion with:  "How dare you tell such big lies?"

Ebi gets a call from the principal saying that Marjii told off the religion teacher.  Mother gets frightened for the future of her daughter and tells her the terrible consequences of speaking out too loudly and too often.  Two days later, her parents decide to send Marjii abroad.  She was send to a French school in Vienna.  Mom's best friend agreed to take Marjii in. 

At the airport Marjii and her parents all cry about being separated.

Mom's best friend decided her place was too small for Marjii and so she send her to a boarding place run by Catholic nuns.  Marjii hated the boarding place, but she loved to go shopping because there were such a variety of things, many of which had disappeared from the shelves of Iranian stores long ago.  Her favorite place to go was the grocery store. 

At school Marjii started becoming friends with the outsiders:  Momo, Thierry, Olivier and Eve.  They were amazed that Marjii had lived through a revolution and a war.  She soon became very familiar with Vienna's alternative sub-culture.  After awhile she started thinking that she belonged, but she never could forget that she was different.   She was constantly reminded of this when the Christian religious holidays rolled around.  Even her outsider friends talked of their having to go home to be with the family.  Marjii stayed in the boarding house virtually alone. 

One of the nuns tells Marjii that the Iranians have no manners.  The always outspoken Marjii insults the nun by saying that all the nuns were prostitutes before they became nuns.  Marjii gets thrown out of the boarding place for this.  Thus began Marjii's apartment hopping days.  Different people would take her in for awhile.  She finally ends up at the home of Frau Doktor Schloss, a retired philosophy teacher and a bit crazy.

Vienna 1986.  Marjii finds herself telling off her nihilistic friends, who had and still have a very nice life compared to that of Marjii's life.  At home she knew her parents were still going through the Iran-Iraq War and she felt guilty for leading such a frivolous life style in Vienna..   

Then her body went through puberty.  She grew eight inches taller, her face got longer and her breasts "inflated like balloons".  Marjii starts going out a lot to night clubs.  A fellow asks her where she's from and she says she's from Paris.  Marjii feels guilty later about telling people she is French. 

Marjii is in a cafe and overhears a conversation about herself from a booth with three young ladies in it.  They make fun of her for telling one of the girl's brothers that she is French.  The girl says no way is she French.  She's looks like a dog.  Marjii goes over to the three girls and tells them:  "Shut the hell up, you stupid sluts!"  She now says she's Iranian and is proud of it. 

After three years in Vienna, all of Marjii's friends graduate from school and leave.  So now Marjii must find some new friends.  And yet the friends she makes are all hippy and anarchist types of people.  At one of the parties, she meets a fellow named Fernando.  From her very first meeting of Fernando, she knew he was "the man of my life".  But she has a surprise in store for her.  Meeting with Marjii, Fernando says he has discovered that he is a homosexual. 

Now Marjii says she is through with love.  But she starts falling in love with Markus.  "I had finally found love."  And then she finfs Markus in bed with another woman. 

Marjii gets into a fight with her landlord and leaves the place.  She now calls herself an idiot for falling in love with that prick Markus.  Marjii starts the first of many nights where she goes to sleep on a park bench at night.  She gets very low on money and goes hungry a lot of times.  She rummages through garbage cans for food.  The days start turning really cold and Marjii starts coughing up blood. 

One day Marjii awakens in a hospital.  The doctor tells her she has severe bronchitis and he forbids her to have any more cigarettes.  One day from the hospital she calls her father.  Her father tells her that the family has been worried sick about her because they have had no news for two months.  Marjii asks her father if she can come home now?  Yes.  The daughter now tells her father to please not ask her any questions when she returns home.  Okay. 

Coming through Iranian customs, one fellow tells her to straighten out her headscarf.  Mom and dad are so happy that she has come back to them. 

The parents keep their promise and don't ask their daughter any questions about Vienna.  And now that the war is over between Iraq and Iran, Majii is much more optimistic than before about her life. 

One day dad starts talking politics to Marjii.  He observes that the West supplied both warring countries with weapons.  "Eight years of war for nothing.  One million dead for nothing."  Iraq started bombing Tehran every day for a month before the armistice.  The government gave the political prisoners a choice:  swear allegiance to the government or be executed.  Many of them chose to be executed.  Mom says that now when she walks in Tehran she feels as if she is walking through a cemetery. 

Grandmother talks with Marjii and she does ask her granddaughter about life in Vienna.  By being with grandmother, Marjii has to be re-introduced to her giant family and they all have various types of advice for Marjii. 

Mom starts to put pressure on Marjii to stop watching so much television and get out there and do something.  So Marjii goes to see her old school mate Kia.  He had been in the war and lost an arm and a leg.

Marjii visits a psychiatrist and he diagnoses her to be suffering from clinical depression.  She takes anti-depression medication, but does not get better.  She stays alone at home a lot and cries. 

One night she has a dream about God who tells her that it is not time for her to die.  She must get up and continue the struggle called life.  When she awakens the next morning she feels like getting up for a fight.  She goes back to school and takes exercise classes. 

Tehran 1992.  The period of great ideals is over in Iran.  There is very little attention paid to politics, since it was too dangerous to talk politics and because the people wanted to forget the past and have some fun.  Marjii starts going to night clubs again.  She falls in love with a fellow. 

Marjii waits for her boyfriend to pick her up, but suddenly the Guardians show up and Majii almost gets busted for wearing too much Western makeup.  So she turns the situation around by going up to the Guardilans and reporting the man on the bench for making lewd remarks to her.  Actually, he was just watching her butt.  The Guardians arrest the "pervert".

When Marjii sees grandmother she tells her about her almost getting arrested.  Grandmother disapproves of what Marjii did to the man on the bench, gets up and starts to leave.  Grandma tells Marjii that she has betrayed the ideals of her family.  Her grandfather spent years in jail for defending the innocent and Uncle Anoush was executed for his political beliefs.  She asks:  "What have I taught you, Marjii?  Integrity!" . . . Shame on you!"

Marjii is in art class and complains that the female model is so covered up that the only interesting feature of her body is her big nose.  Everyone is called to assembly.  A group of men lecture the women and men about their behavior.  They urge the women never to wear wide-legged pants and to wear longer headscarves that cover their hair.  Marjii asks an impertinent question/questions and puts the speakers more on the defensive.  Later Marjii tells grandmother what she said during the assembly and grandmother tells her that she is proud of her granddaughter. 

Marjii drives a car and gives a ride to her boyfriend.  She and her are caught holding hands in the car and are arrested.  Dad has to pay a hefty fine to get her out of jail.  It was that or Marjii would have been whipped.  Dad advises his daughter that she and her boyfriend not be seen in public together.

Marjii soon tires of being force to be cooped up every time she sees her boyfriend.  So the boyfriend suggests that they get married.  The wedding takes place.  Marjii is only 21 years old. 

One year later.  Marjii is already complaining to her friends about her husband.  She says it was easy being in love when they only met together three hours a week.  But now she sees him every day and for longer periods of time.  Her friends warn Marjii that she better not get divorced, because her friend got divorced and every man in the area was propositioning her for sex. 

Marjii visits grandma and cries.  She says that she doesn't love Reza anymore.  She wants to divorce him.  Grandmother says that's no big deal.  She herself divorced her first husband 55 years ago.  She also says that the first marriage is only practice for the second marriage. 

Marjii goes out dancing at a party in an apartment.  Soldiers come to arrest the people.  The hostess is called and warned that the soldiers are coming.  She tells everyone and they start running out of the apartment.  The women rush into traditional clothing and they all sit or stand against one wall of the apartment.  The men are all gone now.  The soldiers come into the apartment to look the place over.  They don't find anything incriminating so they leave the apartment and chase after some of the men hiding in a hallway upstairs.  Most of the men make a jump over the gap between two buildings to get away, but one fellow doesn't make it and falls to his death. 

Back home, Reza asks Marjii why didn't she call him and tell him where she was last night?  Marjii only says that Nima is dead.  And it's now that Marjii tells Reza that she is divorcing him.  She has decided to go to France, but she had to wait for three months to get a visa.  She visits the Caspian Sea with her grandmother.  She then goes to her grandfather's grave and says that she will make him proud of her.  Then she goes back to the prison where her Uncle Anoush is buried in an unmarked grave.  She gives Anoush her word that she will do her best to be true to herself. 

Her family says goodbye to Marjii for the last time.  Mother tells her that she forbids Marjii from coming back.  Iran is not for Majii as it is now. 

As narrator Marjii says this was the last time she saw her grandmother.  She died shortly after Marjii left Iran. 

Marjii arrives in Paris and takes a cab from the airport.  The cab driver asks where she is coming from and Marjii tells him Iran. 

 

Spoiler warning.  Good movie and, in addition there's a lot of history here.  The film tells the story of the Shah being overthrown, to be replaced by a religious tyranny in Iran, through the eyes of a woman who goes through her youth, her puberty, early loves and marriage. All along the way life is extremely tough in Iran.  Through the eyes of Marjii one sees some of the many punishments dished out by the authorities even for the smallest of infractions.  The citizens were living in a Puritanical hell backed up by a mad, dictatorial religious theocracy.  Poor Marjii could never find any real expression of her many gifts in such a negative, small life living in Tehran.  Her parents know that and send her to boarding school in Vienna, Austria.  There Marjii feels set adrift and doesn't really have much direction in her life. She hangs out with the outsiders in Vienna.  Still feeling a stranger in Vienna, she returns home.  Things are better in Iran since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, but there is still no room to express one's self in Iran.  At every turn she is stymied by this and that restriction on her.  Her family and Marjii realize that a talented woman like Majii cannot thrive in a religious theocracy.  No she must leave Iran and never return to an Iran that is a religious dictatorship. 

The film gets you sympathizing with poor Marjii and her family who go through so many trials and tribulations, including deaths of friends and family.  You get some idea from the film of just how terrible it is to live in a society run by religious fanatics. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

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