Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel/memoir of growing up in revolutionary Iran is interesting in its contradictions. Part of the appeal, for Western readers, is how identifiable young Marjane is, with her love of Bruce Lee and Iron Maiden and other icons of American pop culture. She’s a normal, impish little kid. We feel we know her. Yet a central theme of the memoir, particularly the second volume, is how Marjane herself doesn’t feel as integrated in our culture as we imagine her. Attending school in Europe, she feels isolated, the classic stranger in a strange land. She detests our tendency to see her as “exotic.” She resists our inclination to adopt her. Marjane’s coming-of-age story is largely about coming to terms with her identity as someone apart from us.
The film adaptation of Satrapi’s memoir (written and directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Satrapi herself) preserves that conflicted push-pull quality and virtually everything else about the acclaimed work, from Marjane’s distinct voice to the episodic storytelling to the almost cartoonishly simple black-and-white aesthetic. The result is idiosyncratic but powerful, a reminder of just how versatile and compelling animation can be.