Lebanon bans prize-winning cartoon ‘Persepolis’

BEIRUT (AFP) — The Oscar-nominated film “Persepolis”, which has annoyed authorities in Iran for its critical portrayal of the Islamic revolution, has been banned in Lebanon, officials said Wednesday, sparking an outcry.

One official at the interior ministry’s general security department would not say why the French animated feature was banned, even though a censored version has been screened in Iran.

But another official said the film had displeased the head of security services, who he claimed is close to the militant Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran.

“It is clear that… General Wafiq Jizzini is close to Hezbollah and he doesn’t want to allow such a movie, which he believes gives an image of Iran as being worse off than it was before the shah,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity,

Jizzini could not be reached for comment.

The decision to ban the film sparked an outcry in many circles, with some saying it smacked of hypocrisy and showed that some within the Lebanese government were cowtowing to Iran.

Culture Minister Tareq Mitri said he saw no reason why the film should be banned and that he had urged the interior ministry to rescind its decision.

Bassam Eid, production manager at Circuit Empire, the company that was to distribute the film, blasted the ban as ridiculous and unwarranted.

“The decision is even more ridiculous when you consider that you can buy for two dollars pirated copies of the film in Hezbollah’s stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut,” Eid told AFP.

“I purchased two copies of the film from the suburbs and from the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp and handed one over to the culture minister.”

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a leading member of the ruling coalition that is locked in a standoff with the Hezbollah-led opposition, said he was stunned by “this cultural faux-pas that allows a security service to evaluate artistic and cultural works”.

The film, which shows its young heroine’s brushes with the authorities in the early days of the Islamic revolution in the 1980s, was screened in Iran last month but is not expected to be shown at mainstream cinemas.

A success in the United States and France, “Persepolis” has been condemned by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government as Islamophobic and anti-Iranian.

The film, which jointly won the Jury Prize at Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar for best animated film, is based on comic strips by Iranian-French emigre Marjane Satrapi.

Co-directed by Satrapi, it 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 conflicts with the authorities force her to leave Iran temporarily for Austria and then for France — this time never to return.

Maria Chakhtoura, culture editor at Lebanon’s French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour, said she feared the banning of might be a sign of worse to come.

“Does this mean that Lebanon has become a small suburb of Tehran,” she asked in a commentary piece.

“This is part of an effort to eat away at people’s liberties in order to plunge the country into darkness, to isolate it and to impose on it a culture it rejects.”