Saturday, May 10, 2008

Go and See Persepolis

I am told Marjan Satrape is a distant relative of mine, not blood related but something like my maternal great aunt's husband's daughter-in-law kind of relative, and our town of Astara is actually mentioned in her story. I have known about Satrape's illustrations but I am ashamed to say that I never got round to buying her books. Ever since her animation has been released, I have been planning to see it and tonight I finally watched the movie along with some friends.

It is simply brilliant. If you want to know about Iran and the story of my generation who left Iran at an early age, don't read any blogs or academic papers, just go and see this fantastic animation movie.

I have noticed this before that those of my generation who had to leave Iran at a young age, have so many common experiences. In the same way I could relate to so many scenes in the Persepolis animation. The last words of her father for example when she leaves Iran, 'Don't ever forget who you are and where you come from' or her insecurity in finding an accommodation she can regard as her home, her frustrations at foreigner's perception of Iran and Iranians, the nostalgia of waking up and seeing the Alborz mountains, the illusions of the older generation who thought the 1979 revolution will make things better, are just a few scenes in the movie which I could so easily relate to.

Unlike me however Marjan returns to Iran just after the massacre of the Iranian political prisoners in 1988. This is during the peak of the repression, and she also experiences studying in Islamic Republic schools and universities. There is a scene in which her RE teacher rambles on about how liberated Iran has become after the Shah and how Iran no longer has any political prisoners. Not able to tolerate such obscene nonsense, she stands up to the teacher and names her own executed relatives and says if there were 300 political prisoners during the Shah now there are 300,000 to the applause of her classmates and the fury of her teacher. We became so fired up by this scene that we too all started clapping and applauding in the cinema and there were more scenes like that.

There are also exceptional one liners. For example as an impressionable young child she hears her elders talk about having Qajar royal blood and being Communists, thinking this is something to be proud of, the young Marjan goes to bed smiling as she closes her eyes, saying "We are Qajar royalty and we are Communists". Iran's main Communist Party at the time, the Tudeh, was in fact founded by a Qajar Prince!

I really recommend every Iranian to gather a few of their non-Iranian friends and take them to see the movie. Perhaps then they will learn what its like to be constantly harassed in your personal life and to have to look over your shoulder all the time, or perhaps they will realise why we hate 'useful idiots' so much.


Anonymous said...

I heard it was good also and I've been meaning to watch it. But I did get to see Marjan on the Colbert Report. It was weird, because she was talking negatively about the U.S. and everybody seemed to agree (judging from the loud applause). I think that if you heard her talk about contemporary politics you wouldn't be too inclined to agree with her. She is not a revolutionary hopeful; she is an advocate of reform within the system.


Azarmehr said...

She is entitled to her opinions. If I say Charlton Heston played magnificently in Ben Hur it does not mean that I approve of the Gun Lobby. If I say Sadeq Hedayat is a good author, I don't mean to say I approve of committing suicide!

Similarly I think she has portrayed the experiences of my generation brilliantly not that I admire her political affiliation.

I have never had the chance to speak to her, the story as I mentioned in the post, makes it evident that she is from a family background of Qajar Royalty and Communists, so I am not surprised if what you say is true and she is a reformist and thinks like you:))

Nevertheless a very well made animation wel lworth seeing.

Anonymous said...

I laughed so much when I read the bit where you say that you got excited and clapped when the cartoon said that there were 300,000 political prisoners in Iran.
Thanks for the entertainment. Your views are so blurred and your logic so twisted.


Azarmehr said...

Actualy I dont think there are that many now but rememeber when she says that, during the peak of repression.

Just work out for yourself how many people were executed by your beloved Lajevardi and Khalkhali throughout Iran in the eighties and then laugh at your pathetic apology of a human being.

Winston said...

My take on that

Azarmehr said...

Winston makes some valid points in his take on Persepolis. Of course its ridiculous to say that Reza Shah the Great, was a Brit puppet and those who wanted to separate Azerbijan from Iran in what was known as the 'Fergheh Democrat' were freedom fighters. The fact is that the Brits hated Reza Shah and took their revenge on one of Iran's most worthiest heroes after WWII and the Ferghe in fact were the puppets of a brutal dictator named Stalin.

Having said all this my take was that the animation did not present these as facts but as the illusions of Middle Class Leftist families, mostly Qajar descendents, who believed everything upside down. The kind of family Marjan Satrap belonged to and in their delluded minds to revenge the fall of their dynasty, they helped the Communists and the fundamentalists just to get rid of the Shah and later paid the price themselves.

May be I am wrong but this is how it is, we all look at films and stories from different perspectives. It is important however that the point Winston makes is made clear.

SERENDIP said...

Excellent review. Thanks.

Where You Stand Depends on What You See," it is equally true that what you see depends in significant part on where you stand. In other words, there are multiple realities and truth is not absolute because our perceptions of things to a large extent is shaped by our experiences throughout our lives.

Winston said...

I agree but you've got to remember that the western viewers watching her crap have no iota of info on the history of Iran and take this animation at face value for its nonsense. That's what I am worried about some Iranian expats are doing these days. I didn't like Persepolis at all.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with the points that "Winston" brings up. However, what is important, and can be noticed in Potkin's post, is the over-all effect that this movie has. In order to better understand this, read this post by Khorshidkhanoom, who is a pro-Islamic Republic woman, who for the first time has seen a different perspective in this movie:

Azarmehr said...


The chances are they will go and see it any way, so thats why you should go along with them to explain these points.

Azarmehr said...

I think the audience realises that what the movie says about Reza Shah is not presented as the TRUTH but the perception of a middle-class Communist family in IRan at the time.

Similarly when she is in Vienna, she is befriended by Nihilists and Anarchists who also make statements, this is not to say that the audience think what her friends say is the truth. Its just presented as the way of thinking of these people at the time.

Its like when Barmakid makes comments here, people who read his comments don't take his statements as the truth, but the delluded perception of an anti-american who has decided to live in america of all places.

Anonymous said...

"I think the audience realises that what the movie says about Reza Shah is not presented as the TRUTH"

Which audience? Some within Iran from younger generations, post IRI, will not know what she says is TRUTH or otherwise. IRI has been and continues with propaganda against Reza Shah, Monarchy or anything else that does not suit their purposes. Soft targets and softer propaganda. I am not too concerned about non-Iranian audience. - Perspolis - Satrapi Memoirs

Is Satrapi really from a Qajar family and her family really associated with the Tudeh? Do you know for a fact? - Deep Investigation Into Marjane Satrapi Identity

The "entertainment value" of the comic strip cannot be denied. But, otherwise, it leaves much to be desired. IMO, 80% entertainment and 20% "unforgetable truth" of "actual events" mixed with some "personal experience" - all enticing the audience. Yes, it is clever.

To me, ultimately, the fact that IRI allowed the animation to be screened to an audience of approximately 70 people on Valentine's Day says volumes. Since when IRI has allowed movies, animations, books, etc... to be readily available in Iran to Iranians if they are perceived as opposing or some kind of threat to IRI? Ah, but it is sold as "personal memoirs". Too funny...

Satrapi's animation at best is a non-event. But, I agree, people should see it for its "entertainment value".

Azarmehr said...


I just read your piece and my problem is that you are looking at Persepolis like its a documentary. An analogy would be if you look at My Dear Uncle Napoleon novel as a documentary and conclude that Iraj Pezeshkzad was never called Saeed and there was never a servant in their house called Mash Qassem!
A novel or a story is not a textbook its an amalgamation of images and names and characters in a broad frame work of the events of the times.

So what if she is not a distinguished Qajar royal, she makes an excellent ironic point that so many Tudeh party officials were. It was not just Maryam Firooz, like I said one of the founders of the Tudeh Party, Mirza Soleyman Eskandari was a Qajar prince with a title.

An animation like Persepolis can not be regarded as a documentary, where you go on a fact finding mission as to whether her real name is Satrapi or not!

Let me give you another example, the party in which one of the boys falls off the roof and dies. She may have never been at a Party where something like this happened, but there was a case exactly like this, where during a birthday party, Guards burst in and one of the boys who is running away falls off the roof and dies. She has then included that in her story. Its called artistic licence, I think. Including this scene which is after her return to Iran also contradicts your statement that she is trying to say the regime becomes more civilised after the eighties.
And I am definitely not going to go on a fact finding mission to see if she really was in that party or not.

To me this animation is valuable in reminding the Left in Europe how the illusions of the Left in Iran then was similar to the present illusions of the Left in Europe in backing an "anti-imperialist popular regime" and for them to be reminded the heavy price that the Left in Iran paid in not understanding the nature of a theocracy.

But when I see that you are treating this like a documentary, I now do worry about how most Iranians will interpret the movie.

My last question is if you had made an animation about events in Iran, would you have specifically named all your relatives in the story with their exact true identities?

I notice that you don't reveal your identity on your blog.

Anonymous said...

I understand and appreciate the difference between an animation and a documentary. Actually, I looked at Satrapi's animation as what it said it was i.e. animation (comic strip) based on "her personal memoirs". With so many historical inaccuracies about Iran such as Reza Shah example, I think it is important to point out that it is not a documentary and largely not factual. Except for selective "actual events" during and post revolution which may hold true such as the example you gave here (boys falls off the roof and dies) which saggezard also mentioned on my blog. You are right in saying that some Iranians may in fact interpret the comic strip, at least in parts, as a documentary because she mentions certain truths.

As a separate matter to the novel/animation itself, I find it intriguing that she should provide false information about herself and her background to the public, even during subsequent interviews. It is true that many people choose not to reveal their identity on a blog, including myself. However, unlike Satrapi, I do not mislead people by claiming to be someone or something I am not (a Qajar princess, who went to Razi College, with a family or family members who used to belong to the Tudeh party etc..). I believe there is a difference. Satrapi's identity is out there, whether she chooses to state the truth or not. I hardly think IRI or others who matter are unaware, more so since she has chosen to make an animation about events in Iran. So, why mislead?

Anyway, as I said I think the comic strip is entertaining and perhaps you are right in saying that it is a valuable reminder for the left in Europe....

Azarmehr said...

I'll check again, but I am pretty certain, Anoushirvan Ebrahimi, whom she mentions was a member of the Tudeh Party who was executed after the revolution.

Also why is it important whether she went to Razi school or not?
I am sure at the time there were kids at Razi who came from middle class families with Communist sympathies.

The story is about someone with that kind of background, whether all the details are an exact match of her own life is irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

Having lived in Iran during the first 8 years of the Islamic Republic I can tell you that many western movies are shown once or twice to a select audience. This is because unlike the opposition, the IRI does do its research. For the opposition there is always this fear of contamination about everything that is touched by the IRI, who in turn knows this and so touches as many things as possible so that we are stuck here debating whether someone went to Razi. I went to Razi for one year. In the eight years that I went to school in Iran I went to about 5 different schools. I would be very interested if anyone could corroborate anything about my timeline... And even if they could: It is an aporia... a road that leads to nowhere, a trap.

I went and saw the movie with a couple of German professors. They were surprised when I told them afterwards that Ayatollah Khomeini does not make an appearance in the movie... The point about Khomeini is driven home without bringing him up, because the period after the revolution is covered differently than that before the revolution. The second period through the eyes of an adolescent the first one, an imaginative little girl. The period before the revolution is a fairy-tale. The king in question is not Reza Shah, but a king out of the deck of cards (I forget which one she chose, but it may have been diamonds or hearts...)

But what most impressed my friends, both the research professor of medicine and the literary theorist, was the aesthetic value of the work, its stylistic beauty. I got the sense that in its simplicity, she has managed to separate Iranian art from your average run of the mill third-world comic story. And that is what matters. No one actually cares about Reza Shah or Mohammad Reza Shah or who actually tried to separate Azrbaijan from Iran... (apart from the five of us and about a few thousand others...) But the major themes are touched upon for a beginner... And I promise you if I had you watch a cartoon on the last period of the Wilheminian Reich in Germany, after you came out of the theater you wouldn't remember which one was Wilhelm and which one Friedrich Wilhelm and which one Friedrich... but you would be given an aesthetic vehicle that would guide you through a period of time for a somewhat proper explication of which two dozen thick books would not be enough...

When one inadvertantly turns an aesthetic work into the ethical sphere and holds it up to "truth" one espouses a Platonic ideal of art which paradoxically is precisely that which the extreme peripheries, Right and Left (Fascism and Communism) would like to do with art: art in service of telling people their "correct" history...

Potkin's suggestion is absolutely key: go along with your friends to the movie and then get a coup of coffee afterward and I would add don't be too pushy or hasty, rather try to win their attention, which is only gained if the judgement is not absolute in either direction...

I was in LA some 2, 3 months ago and the monarchists had a ralley and I went. They had a maniquin dressed up in a chador and hanged from a scaffolding right on the corner of Wilshire Blvd. Now the point they were trying to make I suppose was: IRI executes women; we, the monarchists, as symbolized by the pictures of RP we are waving next to this hanging scen, are against it. But what it appears to passers by is a performance of a barbaric show... and then as they drive by the next image they see and associate with this first one is pictures of RP which these idiots like to dirty every chance they get... This happens because there is no sense for aesthetic and they try to force their ethically no doubt absolutely valid point at times even rather at the extreme end of ethics, i.e. quasi-religiously.

Of course a work of art is only complete when it has gone through a criticism which may also include ethical judgements and criteria. But to wholly collapse the spheres is just to the detriment of the the cause of the one doing it. People do not and absolutely should not go to the cinema for any kind of performance, let alone a cartoon, in order to get their history. But some do. So the question, just as it was for John Lennon and Judas Priest, is: should the artist be responsible for the readings done by the public?

Well, the answer I would venture would be: it doesn't matter if John really got his middle name from Churchill or not... it matters whether or not he manages to strike a new chord in A Day in the Life... and yes, the Royal Albert Hall is an actual place...

Hope this helps.

Thank you Potkin. Cheers everyone.

Azarmehr said...


You are absolutely amazing, thanks for making the point so exceptionally well as always.

Anonymous said...

I haven't even seen the movie, but what I do appreciate is that this piece of Iranian art has gained international status; and that's fantastic.

But really, who actually thought that an animated movie can accurately depict the truth? After reading yall's exchange I have realized that this film is just fodder for older Iranians (who experienced the revolution) who end up slinging their personal experiences and presuppositions back and forth at one another after watching it.

And a side note: Amir, the monarchists in LA are just as ignorant and dangerous as any IRI supporter or mullah. They are the most regressive breed of Iranians.


Anonymous said...

barmakid, you racist SoB, plz shut up. thnx

Azarmehr said...


Because you were of the impression that the Tudeh Party was one of Shah's 'Yes Parties', I think Persepolis could be educational for you and the discussion on this post slightly above your intellectual capacity, its best if you dont get involved on this occasion and embarass yourself again.

Anonymous said...


You are absolutely right to say "western movies are shown once or twice to a select audience. This is because unlike the opposition, the IRI does do its research." - I may add that IRI "research" is not unique to movies, or even "western" ones. IRI continuously does "climate surveys" of perceptions, reactions, opinions and more... through various means.

I found the film over-stylized, but entertaining. I may even suggest a glass of champagne afterwards than coffee :-) - The delivery of the message (emphasis on aesthetics included) is very clever as I said before, and wide open to interpretation, but she does indirectly lead the audience.

About "opposition vs IRI", yes, IRI has always been far more discerning with propaganda using different vehicles: arts, media, education, and so forth - and at times concurrently. IRI has its fingers in so many pies that, in a sense, the opposition often has to catch up rather than lead. This, imo, has been the case since before the revolution, and of course has continued to date and only got stronger. Often the so-called opposition falls into IRI's "trap" as well. Guess, partly, why IRI, after 30 years, is in business and the opposition isn't..

Arts and aesthetics aside....


While going to Razi school which you isolated, was not my point, and may be dismissed as irrelevant, there have been many other inconsistencies and inaccuracies about Satrapi's claims about her background. And, it is not simply about the "timeline" of her attendance at Razi, for example, Amir compares to himself.

I am sure you realize that the piece regarding "investigation into her identity" is not my piece and is from Iran-resist, including the translation from French to English. If what Iran-resist has outlined is correct, then I will continue to be intrigued about Satrapi misleading the public. As I said before, she insists, in her interviews too, that the film is based on her "personal memoirs", family, background, experiences - and on a number of occasions has given other contradictory information about herself (Iran-resist article).

If the film is about "someone else with such a background and experience", as you suggested in your last reply to me here, then the film isn't about her "personal memoirs", and should be treated accordingly.

Personally, I think she called it "her memoirs" to give the animation a more personalized flavor and more credence in the eyes of the audience.

Anonymous said...

Well, I just hoped I could be helpful... but in reality, I don't really think anything can help us. Kafka has this great line somewhere in the early twenties that I think applies quite well to us also: "Oh there is plenty of hope... just not for us."

Carry on, investigate away, find inconsistancies. Here's another lead: within the movie itself she also portrays herself as a liar, when she tells everyone she is French... (And don't forget the Walrus was Paul...) Hope you enjoy your readings because that's what matters... find those IRI operatives wherever they are... within or without... carry on and step lively, but I am out of the business... not only will I not go to any rallies any more... I won't go to the non-violent programs I used to do with Dr. Ganji any more either... The feedback shows it is quite pointless, and I am not planing on living when I'm old, spending my days Foo Fighting... Catch them liars and shady characters... And here's another clue for you all: if you think I'm not one of them, perhaps you must reconsider that as well...
About 500 years... that's my estimate for our people to catch up... until then it's all pretense... meanwhile enjoy the champaign and the background research on all those spies and operatives, double agents and undercover cartoonists... Just be careful not to anchor your own identity in any at all truth, Red Violin... Don't sign your own name to any books, because then you might have to investigate yourself. enjoy.
cheers, tata.

Arash Sahami said...

Persepolis brought to life the story of the Iranian revolution through the eyes of an incredible little girl. It doesn’t matter if was mere fictional or an elaborate story!

Persepolis aimed not just to portray clear and defined feelings (happy, sad, etc.) but it looked for a kind of inner feeling that we have in us all the time; consciousness.

Away from the script, a big chunk of the accolade should go to the animators. (As supervised by Marjane who’s an illustrator.) It combined leading-edge drawing, paint, animation, video, and effects toolkits into a single environment. It used a powerful real-time 2D animation and special effects system that fundamentally changed the economics of doing 2D production. Persepolis the movie is groundbreaking in its style and it is not ‘highly stylised’!

The key protagonist, Marjane’s child’s-eye-view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings and heroes of the revolution allowed the viewer to learn, as she did, the incredible story of a fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family.

Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and the reminder of the human cost of war and political oppression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. Finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but to fall in love.

I had a very short discussion with Marjane about 4 years ago when I pitched the idea of a politico-animation based on her books but she informed me that the rights had already been signed of and the movie was in preliminary stages of production! I think she did a better job than what I would have done!! All credit to her.

Ey val

Azarmehr said...

And believe me Arash knows what he is talking about.

Amir's comments have prompted me to do a post on credible opposition next. Its so sad to see good people like Amir get put off by the stupidity of those who are presented as opposition through our media and only serve to alienate people like Amir and many others like him with so much energy and talent.

Anonymous said...

plz stop publishing comments by this moron barmakid. thnx

Azarmehr said...

Come on that wouldn't be fair. So long as there are no vulgar words used and no one's familes are insulted, any one is welcome to leave a comment, I am sure you are saying this with a pinch of salt.

Anonymous said...

Just to set the record strait, I never said that the Tudeh party was the 'yes' party; so please cease your gratuitous attacks. And you know Azarmehr, you're right; this discussion is way above my intellectual capacity. I never pretended to think that I could discuss these topics with Iranian doyens suffused with chauvinism, prejudices, and an inordinate sense of nationalism.

I'll let you and others make unhinged analyses about who went to what school and senseless projections about the future of a whole nation.

Let's take notes from a guy who has explicitly given up and is, in his own words, a "liar and shady character" and believes that it will take "about 500 years... that's my estimate for our people to catch up... until then it's all pretense..."

What a load of spoiled flour. The next time you want some real analysis you would be better off reading some literature produced by Trita Parsi or the Shah's son :)

be salamat,

Azarmehr said...

Oh come on, it is in black and white in one of your comments. You thought the Tudeh Party was a Yes Party. Much of Persepolis is about the experiences of a Tudeh Party affiliated family and you have not even seen the animation, so why don't you take a back seat on this one and learn something before pretending you are going to Iran to mobilise women to take their scarves off in the polling stations.

Anonymous said...

Samad agha, aka Azarmehr, let me explain what I meant when I referred to the "yes" and "yes sir" parties. The terminology was coined by an Iranian political analyst at the time who was referring to the two parties that the shah created and edified after disbanding the Tudeh and other parties. These parties were referred to as the "yes" and "yes sir" parties. Tamoom should-o-raft; please don't bring it up again:)


p.s. I can't wait to watch this film and give you a real dose of incisive insight. As for now, I am in the middle of a characteristically riveting Obama speech that he gave after winning Oregan yesterdayand I haven't seen it yet.

Anonymous said...

Dear Potkin,

What value do you think is in publishing "Barmakid"? This person does not add anything to the discussion, is obviously uninformed and has not even bothered to do research, and does not have his own weblog, own ideas, own writings and for all we know his own words. Allowing this guy to continue his parasitic comments is precisely contrary to open democratic conversation. I would suggest saving yourself and your readers some trouble and either identifying him, or cutting him completely off. In order to have a voice or to vote, one must register to do so. Those who don't do this and further contribute nothing to furthing of the discussion are at its detriment. This is a tricky situation similar to when the Weimar Republic had to decide whether to allow the Nazis to participate. There is nothing redeeming in what Barmakid has offered. I suggest preventing the level of discourse from falling by cutting off the bad apples.


Azarmehr said...

Bullshit! Your exact comment for the post 'The Lost Generation':

'You can talk about the Pahlavis and Arabs all you want; whatever floats your boat. But you should know, while you tout the fact that woman voted under that Shah, that voting under the Shah was incredibly insignificant. In fact, one dissident in Iran at the time called the two political parties, i.e. the Tudeh and the Shah's party, the "yes" and the "yes sir" parties. Thus, political freedom under the Shah was absent evermore than it is today. '

That shows how much you know about Iran. How is the scarf burning campaign coming along?

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes...I mix up some words on a blog post so I know nothing about Iran. Exactly.

And keep coming with the scarf burning jokes while you can, but it'll happen:) Just read "Growing of Age in Mississippi" and you'll discover a number of effective ways to overcome oppression. I've always said that the history of black America and the African-American struggle is an effective guide for oppressed people around the world, including Iranians.

And as for Amir; "Allowing this guy to continue his parasitic comments is precisely contrary to open democratic conversation." It's amazing how some people can display their idiocy in just 15 words. It even takes Azarmehr at least two paragraphs :)

be salamat,

Anonymous said...


persepolisian. said...

hi just stumbled over your blog and wanted to ask whether you could cite your quotes about anoushirvan ibrahimi?
kind regards

Anonymous said...

Well here it is 5 years later? Hah!It might still interest some to know these facts...Anooshiravan Ebrahimi was indeed executed after the revolution but he was not her uncle as she claims. She also claims that 'Fereidoon ebrahimi' as Anooshiravan's uncle if I remember right - he was not - They were brothers and Fereidoon was executed long before the revolution after which Anooshiravan escaped Iran to return post revolution only to meet the same fate that his brother did under the previous regime. So why does Satrapi claim such close relationship to these characters? I venture to guess only to make her own character seem more important. If she had sold this animation as fiction that would be fine, but she didn't so she's a fraud in my opinion.