Once in Europe Marjane wrestles with the travails of puberty while trying to reconcile her exotic Iranian heritage with her adolescent need to fit in. At first she stays at a Catholic boarding school, but when one of the nuns affronts Iranians Marjane makes the uncouth comment that all nuns were once prostitutes. This leads to her moving out into a series of living arrangements as well as a string of boyfriends. When she discovers one of her boyfriends in bed with another woman, Marjane becomes despondent and gets kicked out of her apartment and winds up living on the streets. It would be easy to shrug off Marjane’s self-destructive behavior as her being a self-involved teen. It would be easy except that when Marjane wakes up in a hospital from malnutrition she chastises herself for becoming upset over a relationship when her own uncle was subject to incarceration for merely speaking his mind. It’s this kind of self-reflection that prevents the film from falling into the kind of narcissism that plagues so many other coming of age stories. After her brush with death Marjane decides to return to
Like the comic book the animation is deceptively simple. The film is mostly black and white and the characters are drawn with thick lines. Anyone who’s read the comic book will wonder whether they fit in most of the original medium. While the filmmakers do a good job at referencing many of Marjane’s stories, many of the vignettes are necessarily truncated. However, this is hardly a downfall of the film which utilizes animation to communicate Marjane’s tale as succinctly as possible. When she falls in love with a boy, for example, we see her floating above the ground with him, which, for a teenage romance, is just about all the audience needs to know. Each moment of the film is, like the animation, told clearly and simply, but as the film moves forward the moments gather greater strength. It’s like the filmmakers are putting down one pebble after anther until, before you know it, they’ve constructed an entire wall.
The intellectual middle class nature of Marjane’s family seems so familiar that I often found myself wondering what I would do if suddenly transplanted in a country where you could be jailed for walking with someone of the opposite sex who wasn’t related to you and, worst of all, alcohol was banned.