'Persepolis' sad and inspiring

Al Alexander

With bold strokes, the quirkily animated “Persepolis” goes outside the lines to encapsulate three decades of Iranian history as seen through the eyes of a young artist forced to flee her nation’s repressive theocracy.

It’s also the rare big-screen cartoon about something other than anthropomorphic creatures and fairytale princesses. It’s dark and gritty, drawn without flourish in starkly contrasting blacks and whites.

But it’s also deeply moving, charmingly funny and incredibly enlightening for anyone who assumes all Iranians are psychotic jihadists.

If anything, many of Iran’s citizens, ruled by a succession of religious zealots since the overthrow of the shah in 1979, long to embrace Western culture much like Marjane Satrapi did while growing up in Tehran amid tyranny and fear.

She says that’s one of the reasons she and her French-born partner Vincent Paronnaud made “Persepolis,” the film version of Satrapi’s autobiographical comics about a young Muslim girl’s encounters with boys, punk rock and politically driven executions.

Armed with an affecting, offbeat humor, she effectively counters the propaganda that broadly labels her homeland and its people as part of an “axis of evil.”

In reality it’s a case of the few suppressing the will of the many, including the loving family she was forced to leave behind when her outspoken views threatened to land her in prison or a grave — just like her dissident grandfather and uncle before her.

Although she didn’t officially enter into exile before fleeing to France a decade ago, Satrapi has been a perpetual outsider, be it as a student shunned because of racial prejudice at her boarding school in Austria, a failed marriage and numerous broken love affairs, or as an exuberant fan of Western music and clothes in a society in which the only thing filling an Iranian woman’s closet is that ultimate fashion statement — a little black burka.

By presenting its heroine as a stranger in her own land, “Persepolis” generates great empathy. But more than that, it wins your admiration for a woman of unbending backbone, as she repeatedly refuses to buckle under and give into bullies and dictators, whether they run the government or share her bed.

You also marvel at how much change she’s experienced in her 30-odd years, beginning with the shah when she was a little girl right on through the ayatollahs and the loopy, but dangerous, current leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“Persepolis” takes us through each of the eras, and as the fanaticism grows, so does Marjane’s resolve not to conform. It underscores, with vivid reminders, that without bravery there is no freedom.

Most striking, though, is the ultimate example of being careful what you wish for. Namely the overthrow of the Shah, a bit of a ruthless leader himself, but one who looks like a choirboy compared with the current crop of saber-rattling oppressors who’ve kept the Iranian people locked away from the modern world.

We see its effects on only one family, but the film speaks universally to every family in every nation and culture where the gallant scrap and claw to keep free thought and individuality from being squashed like a grape.

It’s a message that, like “Persepolis,” is both sad and inspiring.

Grade: B+

Rated PG-13. “Persepolis” containsviolent images, sexual references, language and brief drug content.