Persepolis—Iranian Feminist as Subversive by Melissa Silverstein (written for the Women's Media Center)
It's been a very difficult fall at the box office for political films, especially for those about the Iraq war. But the most interesting political film this fall comes from the most unlikely source—French-Iranian autobiographical novelist Marjane Satrapi. Her film, which has won numerous awards since it debuted at the Cannes film festival earlier this year, has been chosen to represent France at the Academy Awards (nominations come out on January 22, 2008).
This is a rare film on many levels. First, it is about a girl. Second it's animated, but not like Shrek or other cartoons. It’s animated like a graphic novel, a genre Satrapi and her co-director Vincent Paronnaud had to invent. Third it's a story about fighting back against political repression. Any one of these characteristics would be enough to doom the enterprise, and add to all that, the movie is in French. But here’s what Persepolis has going for it: it’s one of the most original, feminist, and subversive films to come along in years.
Persepolis starts and ends with the resilient Marjane Satrapi, whose story was initially put out by the comic book publisher, L'Association, in France, where it became a sensation. It was then published as a full graphic memoir.
The book and the film tell the story of a smart, independent girl growing up in a secular Iran in the late 1970s, and what happened to her world in the wake of the Islamic revolution and years of war in her homeland. She grew up an only child in a progressive family under the heavy influence of strong mother and grandmother. After the revolution, a repressive Islamic regime took over, forcing women to wear veils in public. Marjane refused to give up her sense of self, which included mouthing off to teachers when forced to recite religious doctrines. She wore nail polish and a denim jacket with a Michael Jackson button.
When Marjane reached 14 her parents became acutely worried about her and sent her abroad to protect her from herself and her independent mind. She returned home to Iran after four homesick years in Austria and attended art school at the university. But no matter what, she could not stop speaking up and out. One day the students were called to a lecture entitled "moral and religious conduct" where girls were told to wear even longer scarves, less wide trousers and no makeup so as not to tempt men. Marjane had enough. She alone stood up to question the administration: "You don't hesitate to comment on us, but our brothers present here have all shapes and sizes of haircuts and clothes. Why is it that I, as a woman, am expected to feel nothing when watching these men with their clothes sculpted on, but they, as men, can get excited by two inches less of my head-scarf." She was summoned by the Islamic Commission for her outburst, but instead of being expelled as she expected, she was asked to create a type of "uniform" that would satisfy the women as well as the authorities, which she did.
Persepolis opened in NY and LA over Christmas. The version that will hopefully play in the rest of the country in 2008 will be different from the original. The filmmakers, to their credit, know that "there are places in America where they will never go to see a movie with subtitles," so they already have a dubbed version in the can with the voices of Gena Rowlands and Sean Penn to compliment Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni, who both also appear in the French version. Satrapi wants mainstream America to see the film because "this movie is a universal movie. The people who will not go to see a movie with subtitles are the most important because they need a different point of view."Check out the: Women's Media Center
2007 is not yet over and the jockeying has already begun for 2008 summer dates. It looks like there will be a Cameron Diaz comedy on May 16- What Happens in Vegas and Meryl Streep's Mamma Mia on July 18. Have to say that I loved the trailer.
Check it out here: Mamma Mia Trailer