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While most animated movies are made for kids, there’s nothing childish about this animated French Oscar contender—except, perhaps, for its wide-eyed main character.

Based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis tells the story of war and revolution in Iran, as seen through the eyes of a headstrong young girl. Born in Tehran in 1969, during the reign of the Shah, Marji (voiced as a child by Gabrielle Lopes and as a woman by Chiara Mastroianni) was the child of a family of revolutionaries. As a child, she was a tough and imaginative little girl who loved music and dreamed of one day being a prophet. But then everything in her country changed.

Persepolis tells Marjane’s life story using strikingly stark and simple black-and-white animation. It shows how life in Iran changed after the Islamic Revolution—the women are forced to wear veils in public, men and women are kept separate, police patrol the streets, and civilians are sometimes killed for no apparent reason. From her family members—especially her grandmother and her uncle—Marji learns about her nation’s history. And, as a rebellious teenager, she yearns for her freedom—which finally comes when her parents, fearing for her safety, send her to school in Vienna.

A fascinating personal account of growing up during the revolutions in Iran, Persepolis is far from the ordinary animated film. Free from the usual cartoon flash, it simply tells Marjane’s story—following her from Tehran to Vienna and back again as she tries to make sense of it all. Along the way, you’ll get an interesting glimpse of life in Iran—both before and after the Revolution. You’ll also see how things change for Marjane through the years—and how people react to her outside her own country.

But Persepolis isn’t a documentary about Iran; it’s a biography—which means that its main focus isn’t the country, its history, or its wars. The film is about Marjane—her childhood, her teen years, and her coming of age. And despite Marjane’s revolutionary background, it’s not really a political film. It’s just a personal account, with Marjane telling the story as she remembers it—and as she feels it. The story may not always be solid—and it does meander a bit from time to time—but it’s definitely honest. And the mostly black-and-white animation provides a simple but satisfying backdrop for a starkly candid story.

Sometimes serious and sometimes silly, this surreal animated film definitely has some of that stereotypical “foreign film” feel to it. It’s somewhat perplexing at times, but it’s a fascinating—and eye-opening—experience nonetheless.

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