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LEBANON: 'Persepolis' kept from theaters

March 12, 2008 |  9:26 am

Persepolis

Can the  memories of an Iranian child in her turbulent country really exacerbate tensions in today's edgy Lebanon?

Lebanese censors apparently believe so. Authorities are considering imposing a ban on "Persepolis," the Oscar-nominated animated feature based on co-director Marjane Satrapi's graphic novels.

The stated argument is the fear of sparking any more friction between Lebanon's feuding political factions, according to the distributor of the film.

"They asked us to postpone the release of the movie for a couple of months until the situation is more stable," said Bassam Eid, an official at Empire Theaters, the film's distributor.

But behind the scenes, public screening of the movie is perhaps being delayed by Lebanon's powerful Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which holds strong ties to Iran's Islamic fundamentalist rulers.

In her autobiographical graphic novels, Satrapi tackles with humor her daily struggles as a girl and a teenager in an Iranian society policed by stiff Islamists. She tacitly denounces the rule of the clergy by describing how Tehran abruptly changed from a liberal modern city to an austere, conservative backwater after the 1979 Islamic revolution. And this might have irked Hezbollah's cadres.

Interestingly, Satrapi's novel sells briskly in Lebanon bookshops. It was even translated from French into Arabic by a Lebanese publishing house.

Although Lebanon is portrayed as an oasis of freedom and openness in the Arab world, all movies are screened by security officers before their release into cinemas.

Scenes regarded as "endangering national security" or "offending moral values" are often sliced off. The police also have veto power over books, plays and DVDs, a matter that continually rankles artists and intellectuals in the country.

Despite the worries about risque movies and books, Lebanon's televisions stations — many of them controlled by political parties — flood the airwaves daily with politically inflammatory rhetoric and images, despite warnings by analysts that the programming is spreading hatred among the country's disparate religious groups.

Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: An image from the movie "Persepolis." Credit: Sony Pictures website

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