The eye of the tiger

Marjane Satrapi’s subversive masterpiece heads for US Oscars


The eye of the tiger
by Darius Kadivar

This year's Cannes International Film Festival mesmerized viewers with a simple black & white animated French produced film by Iranian born Marjane Satrapi entitled Persepolis. Amidst an international selection of heavy weight feature films by such greats as Quentin Tarantino, Wong Kar Wai or Gus Van Sant, an outspoken cosmopolitan duo (Iranian Marjane Satrapi and French Vincent Paronnaud) of first time directors seduced not only the Cannes Jury but also the audience with their astonishing movie, the theme of which, resonated not only with our Post Sept 11th troubled times, but was also a historical reminder of a nation's struggle to survive.

The screening of the film, at the 60th annual of the most prestigious film festival in the World, was immediately followed by a 20 minutes standing ovation for the cast and crew. Marjane Satrapi thanked chocked by emotion before tearfully hugging her co-director Paronnaud. Selected for running in several categories including the Palme D’Or and the Jury Prize. The reaction of the audience signaled the film’s great chances in this year’s particularly tough competition.

Finally it was the Jury Prize that was conferred ex-aequo to the talented duo as well as to Carlos Reygadas the Mexican director of Silent Night. It was however Persepolis that truly stole the show when Miss Satrapi dedicated her “universally themed film” to “All her Iranian compatriots Worldwide”. A victory indeed for Satrapi whose film is no other than the animated version of her already internationally acclaimed comic books Persepolis.

A dark autobiographical comedy about a girl’s growing up in Iran at the wake of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the Shah’s downfall. The film offers a unique perspective on the social and historical changes in Iranian society spanning over 3 decades with insights on the Iran-Iraq War as well as on the personal challenges of an outspoken Iranian girl growing up in exile. However the power of the film certainly resides in it’s universal poetic approach that combines the esthetics’ of traditional animation (so characteristic of the early Disney cartoon’s ) with black & white contrasting shades so vividly portrayed in Fritz Lang’s German Expressionist Cinema and Roberto Rosselini’s Italian Neo-Realistic films both of which are greatly admired by the creators of Persepolis. Thus the film transcends the initial Persian cultural context and its political dilemma’s and reaches out to a much larger and less selective audience.

What the late Edward Saïd would have considered as “Oriental” paradoxically finds echoes in Satrapi’s description of her school days in Vienna as opposed to her less exotic, actually, Western-Oriented life in the post-War Tehran of the 1990’s. Persepolis even through the choice of it’s title challenges the often biased outlook of Iranian’s born into a brutal theocratic regime they never aspired too while being unjustly dubbed as being part of an Axis of Evil by a War mongering US President.

We are introduced to daily life in Iran with it’s share of restriction’s on individual freedom, the absurdities in blindly applying religious doctrine’s in every aspect of life which only have generated opposite results. The movie underline’s the schizophrenic pattern of life in Islamic Iran. Through humor and acute observation’s Satrapi denounces Iran’s “Gender Apartheid”. How for instance can an Art or medical Student study anatomy by observing a veiled model ? Why is a Women who is wearing her veil loosely a threat to social order and morality but a boy of the same age in the University can wear tight Jean’s and not be annoyed? … On the surface everyone abide’s to religious dogma particularly Women whose gender is by Law worth “half that of Men” but also in turn by Men who are encouraged to shout religious slogan’s and beat their chests at Friday prayers. In private however people organize party’s where prohibited alcohol and drug’s flourish, where sexual promiscuity abounds, and Western music or Hollywood film’s replace daily religious rituals.

The revolutionary zeal of the early day’s has gradually given way to bewilderment, in a society where Women constitute 70 % of the population and whom for the most were not even born at the time of the Revolution. Challenging religious authority has become a national sport for boy’s and girl’s who openly flirt in the streets and sometimes with dramatic consequence’s as shown in one of the film’s highlight’s: Revolutionary Guards having broken into a party pursue the participant’s on Tehran’s rooftop’s until one young boy trip’s and mortally fall’s down a building.

If imposed religious orthodoxy is blamed for the mounting problem’s of Iranian society, Satrapi avoids to judge or admonish those who by faith or tradition respect it. On many level’s the film is actually a tribute to spirituality but in a secular form. All the positive character’s in the film such as Satrapi’s outspoken Grandma have strong moral and humanistic values that guide them in their lives and which ultimately will also serve Satrapi in her educational exile to Austria and inner journey of self discovery. This journey will also expose her to other challenges often with equally tragic and comic twists. She is often a victim of sheer indifference if not to racism due to her young age and exotic look’s. Her family upbringing helps her overcome disappointment’s in short-lived teenage love affair’s and abused friendship’s.

The unavoidable clash of culture’s appears in funny circumstance’s when she becomes drawn by marginal’s and outcast’s in her Austrian high school. Paradoxically the culture clash deepens when she return’s to her country to visit family and friends and comes to grips with the patriarchal nature of Persian Society. She realizes that the clichés regarding the West in Iran are as overwhelming as those regarding Iran in the West. This is probably the most interesting aspect in Persepolis: It takes an often raw and unbiased look at both the Orient through Iran (which could easily be replaced by any alien land) and the West which happens to be represented by Austria. She underlines Human “Stupidity”, so often denounced by her beloved and not so old fashioned grandma, as the worst plague and alas common denominator in all civilization’s. Ultimately what is denounced is intolerance and the lack of curiosity in trying to understand other’s and accept differences.

Unjustly deemed “Islamophobic” by the Iranian Cultural Ministry which vigorously protested its screening at Cannes, Persepolis will certainly make its way clandestinely into Iranian household’s. Ironically it may have also placed the ancient city of Persepolis back on the Map of a country, the current leadership of which is on the contrary trying to drown it (**) whilst repeated calls of wiping off another nation from the surface of the Middle East. It is said that in times of intolerance and blind hatred, Art is the last resort for humanity. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis brilliantly prove this point.

Author's notes:

(*) Starring Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Simon Akbarian and Danielle Darrieux and co-produced by Kathleen Kennedy for
Sony Pictures Classics. It is selected to Represent France at the American Oscars in 2008

(**) The construction of the Sivand Dam near Persepolis (Shiraz) triggered unprecedented protest from respected archeologists wary that its side effects could seriously threaten the Aechemenid Palace that hosted the Celebrations of 1971 where Iran’s last Shah celebrated 25 centuries of Persian Monarchy.

First Published in the Middle East Magazine, IC Publications Ltd. August Issue 381

“Stupid people abound in this world, them My Darling, and you will meet a lot of them …” Marjane’s Gradma ( Danielle Darrieux) in Persepolis (*)


more from Darius Kadivar
Orang Gholikhani

I'm here and proud to be here

by Orang Gholikhani on

I don't hide my self (I'wasn't logon when I wrote my comment) and I don't judge without argue and dont use words as B... or F...

I'm proud of people as Marjan Satrapi and respect other people even if they don't agree with me, I answer them without using rude words.

You think because you use some americains slung word you are cool!


to Orang

by David Atthentus (not verified) on

hey Orang, you are also hiding behind your name too. Stop the bullshit advice!


Miz Abdoul What did you do for Iranians ?!

by Orang (not verified) on

Instead of hiding yourself behind an annonymous name and criticizing what every one other did. Ask What did you do for Iraninans and don't wait what Iranians did for you. Dont be frustrate , do something and encourage other Iranians.


This is not about religion

by MH (not verified) on

Anyone who has read Marjane’s books knows that she is probably as religious as Richard Dawkins!!
So I can’t see her defending Islam in any shape or form! Being against Shah does not mean you are a Muslim! Shah was criticised because he was a dictator, maybe not a horrible one but still a dictator just like Khomeini and all the rest of them. This is not about Islam or Christianity, Why everything has to be about bloody religion! Havent we had enough of it yet? Marjane’s work is about Iran and life which can not be defined by Islam or any other religion for that matter. Her childhood is so similar to mine, that it gave me goosebupms too. I cant wait to the see the movie.


Obscenities came from you Miz

by William Angmar (not verified) on

A quotation of someone else's verbal diarrhea doesn't constitute vulgarity; it merely identifies the use of it by the quotee, you in this instance.

Unfortunately it seems that it is you who has missed the point, or perhaps in addition to typing fast you also read too fast to see that I criticized the west's (and American and British) historical exploitation of Iran.

I think that you may also find that more of Iran is being blocked from its own citizens by its own leaders that is being blocked by the west. I hope that you manage to find some peace and serenity.



by ali (not verified) on

agha miz abdol man be neveshteye shoma goosh nemikonam,mikhanamash dar zem ba KIIRAM ham bazi mikonam jatun khaliye.


you use the word FUCK three times more than I did

by Miz-abdol-azim khaneh Ghareeb (not verified) on


you see you failed to make a point. You used the word "fuck" more than I did, so the point was not the usage of word fuck, the idea was that the FUCKING west that you are defending took everything from us and now gives us OSCARs and NOBELS. What the hell do you know what I am talking about?

If you search you will see Persian Alphabet, references to Iranian sournces, acceptance of our language, our currency, our scientists and all numerous other tools that Iranians need are being either blocked, ignored or hidden by the west, and now you want me to believe that I should get an errection of ecstacy because we are given and Oscar? One of our singers also got a Chevallier de'art as well, but we don't want that, we want the fucking British leave my land and fucking French leave my land and fucking Russians leave my land.

Stick the Oscar up your sweet mantlepiece. My anger is not at the Satrapi, my anger is at those fucking filthy institutions that make such decisions: "now it's time to give another oscar to Jewish cause, and now it's time to give one to Iranian females" let's see perhaps we should also give something to Al Gore!

Oh, come on, you are just watching movies and cla and you think you are an intellectual, well, I let you be. I am not angry, I am just typing fast....

French are just trying to get their fox (not lion) share of the Iranian oil and William, if you are interested you need to start reading about the Iranian sufferage....


Wake up Miz

by William Angmar (not verified) on

It must be difficult for people such as Miz-abdol-azim khaneh Ghareeb to live with such anger. Perhaps you would convey your argument more convincingly if you didn't resort to writing "fuck, fuck, playing with your dick, fucking award, fuck Oscar, suck Nobel, my ass, ass kisser" in just 8 little sentences.

If Miz were to objectively look at Persepolis (books and movies) then he would have to admit to being incorrect in calling it anti-Islam. In fact, you will see, if you ever read the books or see the movie (although if you live in Iran your government will repress your right to do so), that much of the material is anti-Shah, with the associated anti-western correlation (to make Miz feel better, we can also equate the anti-western passages with anti-American, anti-British and anti-Christian themes).

Probably Miz is a weak-kneed male threatened by any strong female, as intimated by his statement "... fuck ... fuck ... then give an Oscar to a woman". Sorry to inform you Miz, but there are many, many very accomplished women inside and outside of Iran, and they don't ever need to restrict their ambitions or desires just so that you can feel like a man.


But don't rush into conclusion!

by Miz-abdol-azim khaneh Ghareeb (not verified) on

We always have this lamb herd mentality that bah bah bah and follow the leading voice.

Recall Shirin Ebadi? What the fuck did she do with her Nobel Prize for us Iranians?

So, here we are again, and the west is taking advantage of a situation that it can belittle ISLAM, fuck Iranian heritage and then give an Oscar to a woman.

At the end of the day that Oscar might only mean an expose' on how BAD Islam is to comapre with Christianity and you should wonder if she would get any of these awards if the sbubject was not about what your country and my country represents.

Are you listening or just playing with your dick? I am talking to you.

I am suspicious of any fucking award that is given to any Iranian when the antagonist is Islam. So fuck Oscar and suck the Nobel Prize, because none of them will free my land.

Brave Persian Lioness my ass, you little ass kisser!


She is a brave Persian lioness.

by Irandokht Ahanin (not verified) on

She is a brave Persian lioness.

Love you Marjane


Can't wait to see it

by Mehdi on

I hope we'll have more artists producing such great works of art.


I've seen the Persepolis movie

by William Angmar (not verified) on

and it's well worth seeing. It follows pretty closely the books, with more emphasis being placed on the childhood days in Iran than on the exile years in Austria (or was it Germany?).

I recommend this film to anyone who either has lived through the situations described or who has no concept of what life in the IRI is like. It might even educate a few of the idiot Americans who see Iran only as a source of oil and a potential future bombing target.

I saw the film with my partner, who did live through the events depicted, and she told me that the film gave her goosebumps and the chills. It's a powerful and moving film.