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This is one of those movies that I want to rate higher than I do, because its quality is superior to my overall enjoyment of the film. Which is not to say I didn't enjoy it, because I did, quite a bit. I'm just not sure if I'll want to watch it again; certainly not often. It's too depressing. But... that's life.
It's based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, which I've never read. The narrative is framed by a scene of Marjane (or 'Marji') at an airport in Paris, in the present. She reflects on her life, which led to this point. The story starts in 1978, in Tehran, Iran, when Marji was 9. She was a very inquisitive and outspoken young girl, who wanted to become a prophet (there are a couple of scenes in the movie where God talks to her). Her family are pleased that there's an uprising against the Shah, though at first Marji believed he was a good leader, because her teacher had said so. What her father tells her quickly changes her mind, however, and she's soon passionately opposed to the Shah's regime (a little too passionate, actually). But anyway, the democratic elections established by the revolution result in an Islamic Fundamentalist government which is even more repressive than the Shah's regime had been.
The movie flashes forward to 1982, when Marji was 12, in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War. She was pretty into Western culture (which was, of course, forbidden). And she continued to defy authority. The next year, her parents sent her to Vienna, where supposedly she would be safer. But, she encountered plenty of problems there, as well. After awhile, the movie flashes to 1986. She falls in love a couple of times, both of which end badly. And... there are always other things going on, and she finds herself homeless. Finally, in 1987, she returns to her family. The war being over, things should have been better in Iran, but of course they weren't. Eventually, at age 21, she gets married, and that doesn't go so well, either. The marriage ends after a few years, and finally, she moves to Paris. Which brings us back to the start of the movie.
...I have left out a ton of details, and lots of important characters, because I don't want to spoil too much. The heart of the story is basically watching Marji's life and hearing her narration, and seeing what's happening to everyone in her country, basically. The animation looks very simplistic, but it's used very effectively. Marji is a very real person (naturally, this being autobiographical); she can be funny, and cool, and courageous, and intelligent, and angry, and depressed, and she can make mistakes (both in her personal life, and in how she reacts to her country's political situation). Which, of course, is what makes her so human. And while the movie itself is mostly depressing, there is also a lot of humor in it. I'm afraid I didn't always follow the politics; it seemed like there was constantly some sort of revolution going on, regardless of who was in power at any given time. Though I suppose the film made my understanding of Iran's recent history slightly less vague than it was, before. And... I can't think what else to say. But it's a brilliant film.