For anyone who loves their grandma as I do, Persepolis, (2007 Animation) is a truly amazing film. Based on the autobiographical book, of the same name, by Marjane Satrapi, the movie tells the story of a young Iranian girl, Marjane, as she grows from a child into an adult, during the 1970s and 80s fall of the Shah, and the bloodbath civil war that ensued, fueled by the West.
Marjane is a precocious child, and made well aware at a very young age of how politics and changes in the tide of human fortune can lead to life and death situations, even among those she loves. Marjane, has two supportive, educated, down to earth liberal parents, and her grandmother provides Marjane the sentimental inspiration that drives Marjane’s faith.
The scenes begin with Marjane at an airport in France, smoking, and looking back over her life so far. I won’t relay all the scenes, so as not to spoil the film, but will skip to where Marjane and her grandmother are at the movies together, watching a Japanese film where a monster is eating up a city. The grandmother shouts advice to the characters on screen, and covers Marjane’s eyes for the graphic parts, much to the young teenage Marjane’s mortification.
It is snowing as Marjane and her grandmother exit the film. They talk of an uncle who needs a heart transplant, but cannot receive it because he cannot get a passport due to the extreme religious take over of politics at the time. The aunt who speaks to the hospital’s director to beg for her husband’s life, realizes the hospital director, is her old window washer, and he now has the position he does because of his religious zeal (to the Ayatollah).
The hospital director/window washer tells Marjane’s aunt, that everything is meant to happen as God wills. And nothing more is done to help the aunt’s husband who needs heart surgery abroad in order to live. Marjane mentions the uncle smoking as a trigger of his health issues and the grandmother rebuffs her, saying it is that he lost his children (sent abroad) due to a ridiculous war, that caused the uncle’s heart to fail.
Marjane and her grandmother discuss her uncle’s health, while they order a warm snack from a food vendor; alone with his cart in an empty, snow filled threshold. Touched by their conversations, the vendor states, (in an English translation) “May God eradicate these barbarians.” The grandmother replies, (as translated into English), “May God hear you.” Marjane and her grandmother continue home and the scene broadens to reveal this man, the warm food vendor, calmly and patiently hovered over his cart for heat in a desolate snow filled square.
Persepolis, reveals that people, including families, do not only live with each other, but for each other. The memories of Marjane’s grandmother, how she smelled of jasmine, is shown as a tribute to the woman who taught Marjane to value herself as an individual, to rise above human folly, even horror, so as to have integrity.
By Sarah Bahl