In 1970s Iran, Marjane ‘Marji’ Satrapi watches events through her young eyes and her idealistic family of a long dream being fulfilled of the hated Shah’s defeat in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However as Marji grows up, she witnesses first hand how the new Iran, now ruled by Islamic fundamentalists, has become a repressive tyranny on its own. With Marji dangerously refusing to remain silent at this injustice, her parents send her abroad to Vienna to study for a better life. However, this change proves an equally difficult trial with the young woman finding herself in a different culture loaded with abrasive characters and profound disappointments that deeply trouble her. Even when she returns home, Marji finds that both she and homeland have changed too much and the young woman and her loving family must decide where she truly belongs.
Persepolis is the poignant story of a young girl in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It is through the eyes of precocious and outspoken nine year old Marjane that we see a people’s hopes dashed as fundamentalists take power
– forcing the veil on women and imprisoning thousands. Clever and fearless, she outsmarts the “social guardians” and discovers punk, ABBA and Iron Maiden. Yet when her uncle is senselessly executed and as bombs fall around Tehran in the Iran/Iraq war, the daily fear that permeates life in Iran is palpable.
As she gets older, Marjane’s boldness causes her parents to worry over her
continued safety. And so, at age fourteen, they make the difficult decision to send her to school in Austria. Vulnerable and alone in a strange land, she endures the typical ordeals of a teenager. In addition, Marjane has to combat being equated with the religious fundamentalism and extremism she fled her country to escape. Over time, she gains acceptance, and even experiences love, but after high school she finds herself alone and horribly homesick.
Though it means putting on the veil and living in a tyrannical society, Marjane decides to return to Iran to be close to her family. After a difficult period of adjustment, she enters art school and marries, all the while continuing to speak out against the hypocrisy she witnesses. At age 24, she realizes that while she is deeply Iranian, she cannot live in Iran. She then makes the heartbreaking decision to leave her homeland for France, optimistic about her future, shaped indelibly by her past.
Persepolis is the poignant story of a young girl coming-of-age in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It is through the eyes of precocious and outspoken nine-year-old Marjane that we see a people’s hopes dashed as fundamentalists take power — forcing the veil on women and imprisoning thousands. Clever and fearless, she outsmarts the “social guardians” and discovers punk, ABBA and Iron Maiden. Yet when her uncle is senselessly executed and as bombs fall around Tehran in the Iran/Iraq war the daily fear that permeates life in Iran is palpable. As she gets older, Marjane’s boldness causes her parents to worry over her continued safety. And so, at age fourteen, they make the difficult decision to send her to school in Austria. Vulnerable and alone in a strange land, she endures the typical ordeals of a teenager. In addition, Marjane has to combat being equated with the religious fundamentalism and extremism she fled her country to escape. Over time, she gains acceptance, and even experiences love, but after high school she finds herself alone and horribly homesick. Though it means putting on the veil and living in a tyrannical society, Marjane decides to return to Iran to be close to her family. After a difficult period of adjustment, she enters art school and marries, all the while continuing to speak out against the hypocrisy she witnesses. At age 24, she realizes that while she is deeply Iranian, she cannot live in Iran. She then makes the heartbreaking decision to leave her homeland for France, optimistic about her future, shaped indelibly by her past. (Original Title – Persepolis) © 2007 2.4.7. Films SAS and France 3 Cinema SAS. All Rights Reserved.
The greatest city ever burnt down by Alexander the Great
Persepolis (/pərˈsɛpəlɪs/, Old Persian: 𐎱𐎠𐎼𐎿, Pārsa) was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (c. 550–330 BC). It is situated in the plains of Marvdasht, encircled by southern Zagros mountains. Modern day Shiraz is situated 60 kilometres (37 mi) southwest of the ruins of Persepolis. The earliest remains of Persepolis date back to 515 BC. It exemplifies the Achaemenid style of architecture. UNESCO declared the ruins of Persepolis a World Heritage Site in 1979.
The complex is raised high on a walled platform, with five “palaces” or halls of varying size, and grand entrances. The function of Persepolis remains quite unclear. It was not one of the largest cities in Persia, let alone the rest of the empire, but appears to have been a grand ceremonial complex that was only occupied seasonally; it is still not entirely clear where the king’s private quarters actually were. Until recent challenges, most archaeologists held that it was especially used for celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, held at the spring equinox, and still an important annual festivity in modern Iran. The Iranian nobility and the tributary parts of the empire came to present gifts to the king, as represented in the stairway reliefs.
It is also unclear what permanent structures there were outside the palace complex; it may be better to think of Persepolis as just that complex rather than a “city” in the normal sense.
The complex was taken by the army of Alexander the Great in 330 BC, and soon after the wooden parts were completely destroyed by fire, very likely deliberately.
Persepolis is derived from Ancient Greek: Περσέπολις, romanized: Persepolis, a compound of Pérsēs (Πέρσης) and pólis (πόλις), meaning “the Persian city” or “the city of the Persians”. To the ancient Persians, the city was known as Pārsa (Old Persian: 𐎱𐎠𐎼𐎿),, which is also the word for the region of Persia.
An inscription left in AD 311 by Sasanian prince Shapur Sakanshah, the son of Hormizd II, refers to the site as Sad-stūn, meaning “Hundred Pillars”. Because medieval Persians attributed the site to Jamshid, a king from Iranian mythology, it has been referred to as Takht-e-Jamshid (Persian: تخت جمشید, Taxt e Jamšīd; [ˌtæxtedʒæmˈʃiːd]), literally meaning “Throne of Jamshid”. Another name given to the site in the medieval period was Čehel Menār, literally meaning “Forty Minarets”.
Persepolis is near the small river Pulvar, which flows into the Kur River.
The site includes a 125,000 square meter terrace, partly artificially constructed and partly cut out of a mountain, with its east side leaning on Rahmat Mountain. The other three sides are formed by retaining walls, which vary in height with the slope of the ground. Rising from 5–13 metres (16–43 feet) on the west side was a double stair. From there, it gently slopes to the top. To create the level terrace, depressions were filled with soil and heavy rocks, which were joined together with metal clips.
One bas-relief from Persepolis is in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. The largest collection of reliefs is at the British Museum, sourced from multiple British travellers who worked in Iran in the nineteenth century. The Persepolis bull at the Oriental Institute is one of the university’s most prized treasures, part of the division of finds from the excavations of the 1930s. New York City’s Metropolitan Museum houses objects from Persepolis, as does the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania. The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon and the Louvre of Paris hold objects from Persepolis as well. A bas-relief of a soldier that had been looted from the excavations in 1935–36 and later purchased by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was repatriated to Iran in 2018, after being offered for sale in London and New York.
Persepolis is a 2007 animated biographical drama film based upon the Marjane Satrapi autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. It was written and directed by Satrapi in collaboration with Vincent Paronnaud. The story follows a young girl as she comes of age against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. The title references the historical city of Persepolis. The film was an international co-production made by companies in France and Iran. It premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, where it co-won the Jury Prize, alongside Silent Light. In her acceptance speech, Satrapi said “Although this film is universal, I wish to dedicate the prize to all Iranians.” It was released in France and Belgium on 27 June 2007, earning universal praise by critics. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, but lost to Ratatouille.
At the Paris-Orly Airport in France, an Iranian woman, Marjane ‘Marji’ Satrapi, looks at the flight schedule; her eyes come to rest on a listing bound for Tehran. She then takes a seat, smokes a cigarette, and reflects on her childhood.
Marji grew up in Tehran, wanted to be a prophet, and was a big fan of Bruce Lee. When the 1979 Iranian revolution against the Shah of Iran begins, her middle-class family is thrilled and participates in the rallies, but Marji is forbidden to attend. One day, Marji’s uncle Anoosh arrives to have dinner with the family after being released from a nine-year prison sentence, inspiring Marji with his stories of his life on the run from the government.
The Shah is deposed and elections for a new leading power commence. Marji’s family’s situation does not improve, in spite of Anoosh’s optimism, and they are profoundly upset when Islamic fundamentalists win the elections and start repressing Iranian society, imposing strict Islamic law. The government forces women to dress modestly and wear headscarves, and Anoosh is rearrested and executed for his political beliefs, as are other political dissenters Marji knows. Many of the family’s friends, as well as thousands of Iranians, flee to Europe or the USA.
Profoundly disillusioned, Marji tries, with her family, to adapt to life under the new regime. The Iran–Iraq War breaks out and Marji sees for herself the horrors of death and destruction. The Iranian government begins implementing laws that create blatant injustices and cut down even more on social freedoms. Later, one of her uncles, Taher, has a heart attack. He needs open-heart surgery, and since Iran does not have the equipment, he must go to England. But since the borders are closed, only very sick people approved by the Board of Health can leave. When Marji’s aunt attempts to get permission, she finds that the hospital director she must deal with is her former window-washer, who is incompetent and totally submissive to his religion.
Marji and her father go to see Khosro, a man who prints fake passports and promises to make the passport in a week. Khosro is sheltering Niloufar, an 18-year-old relative wanted for her Communist beliefs, to whom Marji takes an instant liking. Later, Niloufar is spotted and promptly arrested and executed; Khosro’s house is ransacked in the process, and he flees without making the passport. Marji watches as her uncle dies from his heart problems, and the family tries to find solace in secret parties where they enjoy simple pleasures the government has outlawed, including alcohol.
As she grows up, an overconfident Marji refuses to stay out of trouble, secretly buying Western heavy metal music, notably Iron Maiden, on the black market, wearing unorthodox clothing such as denim jackets, and celebrating punk rock and other Western music sensations like Michael Jackson. She is nearly taken into custody by female Guardians of the Revolution but escapes by lying. Marji is expelled from school when she openly rebuts a teacher’s lies about government abuses.
Fearing her arrest for her outspokenness, Marji’s parents send her to a French lycée in Vienna, Austria. She lives with Catholic nuns and is upset by their discriminatory and judgmental behavior. Marji makes few friends and ultimately feels intolerably isolated in a foreign land surrounded by annoyingly superficial people who take their freedom for granted and view her with open disdain. As the years go by, she is thrown out of her shelter for insulting a nun, and moves between houses until she rents a room from Dr. Frau Schloss, an unstable former philosophy teacher.
One night, her grandmother’s voice resonates, telling her to stay true to herself as she leaves a party after lying to an acquaintance that she is French. Her would-be lover reveals his homosexuality after a failed attempt at sex with Marji. She engages in a passionate love affair with Markus, a debonair native, which ends badly when she discovers him cheating on her. Schloss then accuses Marji of stealing her brooch, and Marji finally leaves. She spends the day on a park bench, reflecting upon how “stupid” she has been, and realizes she has nowhere else left to go. After living on the street for a few months, she contracts bronchitis and almost dies.
Marji awakens in a Viennese hospital and returns to Iran with her family’s permission, hoping that the end of the war will improve their quality of life. After spending several days watching television, Marji falls into clinical depression. She attempts suicide by overdosing on medication. She falls asleep and dreams that God and Karl Marx remind her what is important and encourage her to live. Her determination is renewed and she attends university classes and parties and enters into a relationship with a fellow student, Reza.
Iranian society is more tyrannical than ever with mass executions for political beliefs and petty religious absurdities now common. Marji and Reza are caught holding hands and their parents are forced to pay a fine to avoid their lashing, so Marji resorts to survival tactics to protect herself, such as falsely accusing a man of insulting her to avoid being arrested for wearing makeup and marrying Reza to avoid scrutiny. Her grandmother is disappointed by Marji’s behavior and berates her, telling her that both her grandfather and her uncle died supporting freedom and innocent people and that she should never forsake them or her family by sacrificing her integrity. Realizing her mistake, Marji delivers a speech during a class at the university, and her grandmother is pleased to hear that she openly confronted the blatantly sexist double standard in her university’s forum on public morality.
The fundamentalist police discover and raid a party Marji is attending. While the women are detained (having just barely managed to cover themselves up, they avoid punishment), the men escape across the rooftops. One of them, Nima, hesitates before jumping, consequently falling to his death. After Nima’s death and her divorce, Marji leaves Iran permanently to avoid being targeted by the Iranian authorities as a political dissident. Before leaving, she takes a trip to the Caspian Sea with her grandmother and visits the graves of her grandfather and uncle. Marji’s mother forbids her to return, and Marji agrees. Her grandmother dies soon after her departure.
Marji collects her luggage and gets into a taxi. As the taxi drives away from the airport, the narrative returns to the present. The driver asks Marjane where she is from and she replies “Iran”, keeping the promise she made to Anoosh and her grandmother that she would remember where she came from and always stay true to herself. She recalls her final memory of her grandmother telling her how she placed jasmine in her brassiere to smell lovely every day.
The film is presented in the black-and-white style of the original graphic novels. Satrapi explains in a bonus feature on the DVD that this was so the place and the characters wouldn’t look like foreigners in a foreign country but simply people in a country to show how easily a country can become like Iran. The present-day scenes are shown in color, while sections of the historic narrative resemble a shadow theater show. The design was created by art director and executive producer Marc Jousset. The animation is credited to the Perseprod studio and was created by two specialized studios, Je Suis Bien Content and Pumpkin 3D.
- Iran’s government sent a letter to the French embassy in Tehran to protest against the movie and pressured the organizers of the 2007 Bangkok Film Festival to drop it from the lineup.
- Catherine Deneuve, who voices Marjane’s mother, and Chiara Mastroianni, who voices Marjane, are mother and daughter in real life.
- Marjane Satrapi insisted that Chiara Mastroianni sing “Eye of the Tiger” off-key.
- Wellington, New Zealand – In July, 2008 the Iranian embassy angrily protested the screening of Persepolis during the 37th Wellington Film Festival.
- Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni lent their voices to the movie’s English- and French-language versions, playing the same roles.
- The title, “Persepolis,” means “Persian City” in Greek. The word is the Greek transliteration of the Old Persian word “Parsa” (“City of Persians”). Parsa, or Persepolis, was an actual ancient city that existed in Persia c. 550-330 BC. Its ruins still stand in southern Iran today.
- France’s official submission for the Best Foreign-Language Film category at The 80th Annual Academy Awards (2008).
- At the party given by the Austrian nihilists, the symbol of the famous industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten can be seen on the upper left-hand side of the screen.
- In the graphic novel Persepolis 2, Marjane’s father tells Marjane that he rented La Dolce Vita (1960). ‘Marcello Mastroianni’, father of ‘Chiara Mastroianni’ (Marjane), and former partner of ‘Catherine Deneuve’ (Marjane’s mother), played a lead role in that film.
Vincent Paronnaud: Man with glasses walking by at the airport.