TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran this week held rare screenings to small but fascinated audiences of the Oscar-nominated film "Persepolis," which has annoyed the authorities for its critical portrayal of the Islamic revolution.
Around 70 people crammed into a small hall in a Tehran cultural centre on Thursday to watch the animated film in a rare chance for Iranians to see the film legally and in public, AFP correspondents witnessed.
A similar screening of the film, which graphically shows its young heroine's brushes with the authorities in the early days of the Islamic revolution in the 1980s, also took place at the Rasaneh Cultural Centre in Tehran on Tuesday.
"The aim of this screening is to end the delusions surrounding the film which have been created by the media," said the centre's public relations chief, Mahmoud Babareza.
"When a film is not shown people make all sorts of misconceptions. Cinema is cinema, after all, and it should not be put into a limited political context," he told AFP.
Already a major success in the United States and France, "Persepolis" has been condemned by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government as "Islamophobic" and "anti-Iranian," and is unlikely to be shown at mainstream cinemas here.
But laughter filled the hall as the audience followed the defiance of the heroine Marjane as she pursued her interest in heavy rock music, Western clothes and boys despite the attentions of the morality police.
The film shown, a DVD copy with Farsi subtitles, was censored of half a dozen scenes mainly of a sexual nature before being deemed acceptable, but the screening took place with the full permission of the cultural authorities.
"I liked it very much. It was very professionally made and very successful in putting across its message that Iran was a closed society at that time," said Zahra Jahani, 20, an architecture student.
"The film is extremely good and very well made," said Mehdi Ghamaie, 21, an accounting student. "It might be anti-government but it is certainly not anti-Iranian."
Not all the audience was so enthusiastic. "It was a secular story and very well told from that point of view. But you cannot agree with everything that she says," said Mohsen Sahaf, 27.
"Persepolis," which jointly won the Jury Prize at Cannes and has been nominated for an Oscar for best animated film, is based on best-selling comic strips by Iranian-French emigre Marjane Satrapi.
The film, co-directed by Satrapi, shows repression under the shah but also portrays the social crackdown, arrests and executions that followed the Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.
The heroine's rebellious nature and run-ins with the authorities force her to leave Iran temporarily for Austria and then for France -- this time never to return.
Leading Iranian film critic Hossein Moazzezinia, in a public debate after the screening, praised the film's technical qualities and script but complained that it had not told the whole story.
"Satrapi was selective in presenting her narrative. She omitted certain facts, which at times makes her film unreliable and dishonest," he said.
"You cannot overlook the fact that the people appeared in their millions in support of the imam (Khomeini). It is not true that a minority hijacked the revolution," he said.
The cultural centre where the film was shown is one of a dozen such places run by the capital's municipality.
These centres were promoted by moderate former mayor Gholam Hossein Karbaschi, and the number of film screenings and book readings reached a peak a decade ago but has dwindled somewhat since.
Nevertheless, screening such a sensitive film as "Persepolis" shows that they remain one of the most active forums for discussion in the Iranian capital.
Some Iranians have already seen the film at home on bootlegged DVDs, which are discreetly but readily available in the capital for around two dollars despite being strictly forbidden.
"Persepolis" was not the only film released last year to arouse accusations of being anti-Iranian.
The US blockbuster "300" about the Greco-Persian wars which caricatured the ancient Persians as bloodthirsty sadists was denounced by both the government and webloggers alike.
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