Up to 1979, Iran was on a fast track to modernism. The clothing fashions looked straight out of Vogue, and under the monarchy of the Shah, quality of life was improving rapidly. Unfortunately, the Iranian Revolution occurred, orchestrated by religious zealots, and concluded with the American-backed Shah going into exile. Many progressive Muslims were faced with an Islamic conservative power. To this day, the governmental policies do not reflect the will of the Iranian people. In fact, after the 9/11 attacks, thousands poured into the streets of Tehran, the capital of Iran, to hold a candlelight vigil for the victims who perished that day.
Sorry for the impromptu history lesson, but to know the plight of Marjane, our heroine, and her family, it’s incredibly vital. While waiting for her Tehran-bound flight at a French airport, Marjane sits and begins to reminisce. Her childhood, until the fall of the Shah, was a happy one. Wearing her sneakers, listening to pop music, and hanging out with her friends, Marjane believed herself to be an appointed prophet of God. Then the revolution happened. Almost overnight, she and her female family members were forced to cover themselves from men, and culture from the west was strictly forbidden.
Marjane has a rebellious spirit, much like her matriarchal grandmother. Unfortunately, this spells trouble in the rigid Iran that Marjane inhabits. Buying black market heavy metal music and other western decadences, Marjane becomes increasingly emboldened. Almost being taken in for not wearing traditional garments, Marjane’s parents make the decision to send their daughter to a French lycée in Vienna, before she makes too much of a ruckus with her outspokenness.
Finding the youth and culture to be on the opposite side of the spectrum in Austria, Marjane attempts to fit in, but feels isolated by these entitled superficial kids. She tells everybody she’s from France, finding embarrassment of the worlds’ view on Iran. Not allowing herself to be disrespected, Marjane finds herself kicked out of house after house, all while learning just how ridiculous the dating world can be, swearing off love. After being accused of stealing a brooch by her newest landlord, she ends up homeless, contracting bronchitis and nearly dying.
Marjane recovers in a Vienna hospital, and travels back home to be with her family. Learning that nothing has changed, she quickly falls into a bout of depression, and ends up overdosing on her medication. After a dream where she meets God and Karl Marx, where they encourage her to live, Marjane wakes up with renewed determination, enters a university, and subsequently, enters a relationship with Reza. We are swiftly reminded of how ridiculous things have become when she is arrested for holding hands with Reza.
To bypass laws, she marries Reza, to the dismay of her family. She’s even forced to falsely accuse a stranger in order to avoid arrest for wearing makeup. Thanks to her grandmother chastising her, she realizes her mistakes, divorces, and stands up to university officials for their gender-biased double standards. After a party is raided by the secret police, Marjane and her family decide for her to vacate the country, to never return. Her grandmother leaves her with the advice to never forget who she is and where she’s from.
Back to the present, Marjane climbs into a taxi. The driver asks her where she is from. She proudly replies, “Iran.”
Often tragic, and occasionally comedic, Marjane Satrapi directs her own story like a seasoned veteran, resulting in a striking coming of age film like no other.
Tim Bynum is a Jones County native who lives in Laurel with his wife, Lauren. An avid film fan since 1985, keep up with him at thefilmsnob.reviews and on Instagram and Facebook: @the_filmsnob.