The anti-Pixar Persepolis, a much different coming-of-age story than we're used to, is more touching and real than most live-action films could ever hope to be.
At the ripe young age of 8, Marjane Satrapi (voice of Gabrielle Lopes) is celebrating the end of the dictatorial Shah's reign in late-'70s Tehran, Iran. Along with her parents, Tadji (voice of Catherine Deneuve) and Ebi (voice of Simon Abkarian), and her grandmother (voice of Danielle Darrieux), with whom she is closest, young Marjane looks toward a bright future, one sans the oppression her independent-minded family has endured for some years. But life only winds up changing for the worse in the years that follow. Oppression and repression rage on amidst a new yet obsolete form of government. Women, for example, are literally not to be seen: Headscarves must cover their faces, or else. This doesn't sit well with Marjane, who sneaks in taboo imports like Bee Gees and ABBA records and a "Punk Is Not Dead"-emblazoned jacket. Her parents, fearing Marjane is one minor misstep away from jail or worse, send her off to school in Vienna at age 14 (now voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) for her own safety. It starts a period of self-discovery, self-loathing, extreme growth spurts and great wandering, both physically and mentally. And it ends with the beginning--of the rest of her life.
The only name moviegoers are likely to recognize in the cast of vocals is that of legendary French actress Deneuve, whose voice lends a genuinely maternal aura--in addition, of course, to her distinctive, smoky delivery. All the voice-overs are superb, though, and the family feel is tangible throughout as a result. It pays off--not just budget-wise--to have a cast without A-listers, separating Persepolis from the pack that has become star-studded animated movies of today. All dialogue is in French, which obviously eliminates 99 percent of Hollywood, but the relative few not scared off by lack of star power are in for a more authentic film. Most notable is Mastroianni (real-life daughter of Deneuve and her late husband, famed actor Marcello Mastroianni), who voices both the teenaged Marjane and her older self, narrating the story via flashbacks. Mastroianni, as clearly the central figure of the story, is able to capture every emotion on the roller coaster that was Satrapi's coming-of-age-hood.
Sometimes adaptations get lost in translation from source material to movie, but Marjane Satrapi, the author of the graphic novel of the same name on which Persepolis is based, was fortunately integral to the whole production every step of the way. She co-directed and co-wrote the movie, along with Vincent Paronnaud, and clearly infused her woe-is-NOT-me attitude. Persepolis is sad in spots, but it's always circumstantial, never subjective. At no time does Satrapi assert any sense of pathos into her real-life story or plead for viewers' pity, making it a refreshing, often humorous, and ultimately uplifting retrospective on oppression--not depression. Animation-wise, everything is done in minimalist black and white, the perfect touch that takes no getting used to; nor does it take away from the story's soul, like CGI sometimes does, and the visuals still manage to be just as intoxicating as those in, say, Pixar movies. And being that Persepolis is adapted from a graphic novel and told in a similarly noir tone, live action just wouldn't have been the same.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.