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Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi
Certificate 12A, 95 mins


This astounding animated adaptation of Satrapi's graphic novel by herself and her fellow comic artist Paronnaud (whose penname is Winshluss) eschews the current Hollywood penchant for ever more photorealistic characters in favour of mostly black and white, unfussy but highly effective 2-D animation. Nothing like any animated film you've ever seen, it's also a terrific piece of cinema.

Now resident in France, Satrapi was born and grew up in Iran, until her mid‑teenage years, which meant that she lived through the country's 1979 revolution (when the Shah was replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini) followed by the eight year Iran-Iraq war. Persepolis charts its heroine's life from a small girl through her teenage years into adulthood as her country changes around her.

Given its Oscar nomination for best animation, you'd be forgiven for assuming this is a no budget, rambling arthouse affair with 'worthy' written all over it. Not so: the film never succumbs to such pitfalls and is nothing less than explosive.

Numerous unexpected elements are seamlessly woven into the overall narrative. From childhood, the heroine Marjane has conversations with God and Karl Marx, eventually turning her back on the former out of disillusionment. (Her Marxism comes from an Uncle who studied in Russia.). As a child, she and her friends bully another kid because his father is known to be a torturer (which earns Marjane her mother's reprimand). She laments the way young men are persuaded to enlist for the Iran-Iraq War. As a young teenager, she trawls the black market for illicit Iron Maiden bootlegs. She finds comfort in the arms of her wise grandmother throughout.

At the age of 14, Marjane is sent to school in Vienna where she falls in with a crowd of intelligent, nihilistic punks to whose world-view she can scarcely relate to. Back in Iran, there are illegal parties where alcohol must be swiftly disposed of down the lavatory when the religious authorities arrive to raid the premises. And so on.

All of this builds up into not so much the Iranian geo-political treatise one rather dreaded, but rather it takes the viewer inside the head of a child growing into adulthood. The fact that it does so against the backdrop of Iran in one of its most turbulent historical periods is a welcome bonus, but in the end, you far care more about Marjane herself - which is just as it should be. The whole is understandably light years away from the western experience and provides a welcome entry point for understanding the Middle-Eastern mind generally and an Iranian one specifically. Absolutely essential viewing.

Jeremy Clarke