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Highly Acclaimed 'Persepolis' Denounced by Iran

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Highly Acclaimed 'Persepolis' Denounced by Iran

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Highly Acclaimed 'Persepolis' Denounced by Iran

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Marjane Satrapi says that she doesn't love the term graphic novel, but writing them is what she's most famous for. "Persepolis" begins by documenting her life in Tehran before and after the revolution. Now, Marjane Satrapi hopes that she'll also become known as the co-director of an animated film based on her books. It's coming out next month in the U.S.

NPR's Kim Masters reports that anticipation of the movie runs high, both in the Persian American community and in Tehran.

KIM MASTERS: "Persepolis" follows Marjane Satrapi's tragic and comic odyssey from Tehran to Vienna to Paris, where she lives now. The movie, which tells her story in French, begins with her very normal childhood, when she was fixated on French fries and Bruce Lee.

(Soundbite of movie "Persepolis")

Unidentified Woman#1: (French spoken)

MASTERS: When the Shah falls, her parents are elated. Then they realized what's in store - war and an assault on freedoms that existed even under the Shah.

(Soundbite of movie "Persepolis")

Unidentified Woman#1: (French spoken) Michael Jackson.

Unidentified Woman#1: (French spoken)

Unidentified Woman#1: (French spoken) madam.

MASTERS: Alarmed about the rebellious teenager's future in Iran, Satrapi's parents sent her to Vienna. There, she finds herself adrift. But the Tehran of her childhood has vanished. It's an experience that Persian fans of the book in particular are eager to see depicted on the big screen.

Mr. BEIRUT MOVAHEDI(ph) (Los Angeles Engineer): I just take a look at the book and I, immediately, there was a love affair in first glance, suddenly.

MASTERS: Beirut Movahedi is an engineer born in Tehran but living in Los Angeles. Sitting in a Persian bookstore on a recent afternoon, he explains that he, too, left home as a teen and shared Satrapi's sense of disorientation.

Mr. MOVAHEDI: Every single drawing of that book almost related to me. And I'm positive there are so many people out there that are going to say the same thing. Because it's like a very general experience, both personal and political.

MASTERS: Like Satrapi, Movahedi returned to Iran and found himself out of place.

Mr. MOVAHEDI: When you get back after a few years of those extremely speedy changes that Iran actually face, wow, you feel like your home is lost.

Ms. MASA DEGINYA(ph) ("Persepolis" reader): I clearly remember the expression on my mom's face driving from Mehrabad Airport through streets that she just didn't recognize anymore. You just see her completely break down.

MASTERS: 25-year-old Masa Deginya was born in the United States, but she visits Iran with her parents every year. So when she first heard about "Persepolis," she rushed out to buy the book. It spoke to her, too. And she was thrilled that it seemed accessible to people of any background and offered a glimpse into life in Iran.

Ms. DEGINYA: Their kids, their partying, doing the same exact thing we're doing here. Something as simple as people realizing, hey, we're normal too.

MASTERS: Deginya is eager to see the film version, which has already opened in Europe. Author Marjane Satrapi co-directed the movie, which hues closely to the graphic style of her book. Satrapi feels that has had exactly the same effect.

Ms. MARJANE SATRAPI (Author, Co-director, "Persepolis"): People, they say, we didn't know. And what they didn't know is that we didn't know Iranian people, they were just exactly like us.

MASTERS: In May, "Persepolis" won the Grand Jury Award at the Cannes Film Festival. It will be France's submission at the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film. Satrapi is pleased, but the Iranian government is not. It denounced the film and got it dropped from the Bangkok International Film Festival. Satrapi is reluctant to discuss the government's response.

Ms. SATRAPI: What do you want me to say? They say that is an anti-Iranian movie. I don't know who can watch this movie and say that it's an anti-Iranian movie.

MASTERS: Satrapi acknowledges that her book doesn't flatter the Iranian regime. But she says it was meant to be a personal, not political, work. And she says she had no idea the film would be released in the U.S. just as relations with Iran are coming to a boil.

Ms. SATRAPI: Now, it has become that it's in a certain context, which I couldn't have known that it would be this context because we started this movie three and a half years ago. And, you know, I didn't have a crystal ball.

MASTERS: Satrapi's hope is that the film will promote understanding.

Ms. SATRAPI: If this movie, you know, can make the effect that, you know, you will watch this movie and you will say, wow, that could have been me, I can relate so well, you know? These people, they are so much like me. Then that means that the dialogue is possible.

MASTERS: Perhaps many Americans won't be drawn to a film about Iran, and the subtitles make it even harder to market to a broad audience. Sony Pictures Classics is planning to release an English version voiced by talents including Gena Rowlings, Sean Penn and Iggy Pop. But the studio won't say when it will be available. Certainly, not before the French version has a chance to compete for a foreign language Oscar.

Kim Masters, NPR News.

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