Persepolis was the capital of ancient Persia, and was located in what is now the southwest of present day Iran. Persepolis is not about ancient Persia; it is not even about present day Iran, though it contains an entertaining recap of recent Iranian history. Rather, it is the coming-of-age tale of Marjane, a budding artist who yearns to be free among her own people. The movie starts with childlike wonder, and maintains it even through Marjane’s cynical young adult years among European intellectuals and bearded Iranian fascists.
Based on the autobiographical graphic novel of the same name, Persepolis suffers from the same drawbacks as all biopics (including La Vie En Rose): it is episodic. However, the episodes are nearly all entertaining, and some are quite moving. As a biographical movie about a child suffering in time of war, it is comparable to, but not in the same league as, Grave of the Fireflies. It never reaches an emotional climax nor even, for all its political and historical awareness, sheds much light on why the Iranian people repeatedly give up their freedom for insecurity.
Persepolis pushes the bounds of the kinds of stories animation can tell. Though a realistic story about real people, it shines most when it exploits the medium of animation (when driving in a car with her lover, it does not touch the ground; the story of the Shah told with Terrence & Philip-like marionettes). I am glad it has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Film.