REVIEW: Persepolis [2007]

“ABBA is for wimps”

Here we have France’s official entry for foreign film at the Oscars, the animated film Persepolis. This intrigues me for many reasons. One, it is a cartoon and almost destined for the nod in that category; two, it is about Iran, by an Iranian who took France as an adopted home in her 20’s, and third, the wonderful film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly had a real shot at winning the award, let alone getting a nomination (but then it was directed by an American, so who knows?). By no means is the film unworthy of the praise or accolades; it is in actuality very well done. Maybe not quite as good as I have heard, but than this is not the type of film I normally put my sights on being almost documentary-like in its biographical and historical nature. As a visual piece, one can’t complain though, and as a piece of history, telling of the pain and horrors that went on in the Middle Eastern country, it is quite shocking and informative (albeit from a viewpoint that was very anti-war/regime, not that her family should have been for the genocide, but it is a biased view nonetheless). With multiple sequences that are as powerful as any scenes all year, there are just too many moments showing the naïve immaturity of our heroine as she deals with relationships and depression. The weight of what is happening on a global level is so strong as a story thread that the “little” things took me away from the movie and caused me to become a tad restless waiting for the intriguing moments to come back.

Marjane Satrapi lived a very interesting life. Her family contained many important members in Iran, from a Prince, numerous revolutionaries, imprisoned and killed Communists, and a couple of strong-willed parents, fighting the good fight, yet still maintaining a balance to keep themselves alive. The film is a very personal piece of work, telling about her life from childhood to mid-20’s—from precocious youngster wishing to be the last prophet of the world to a cynical, jaded woman who had survived hard times both physically and emotionally. Her outspoken demeanor leads to some tense moments that almost seem to be diffused a little too easily. In a country that is so repressive and so against women, how can all these men allow her to say what she does and just cower in embarrassment? I am surprised she survived to turn 20 in the first place with the way the film portrays Iran.

This is of course a fictional remembrance, and I’m sure there were some liberties taken. Much like American Splendor from a few years back, Persepolis is based off a series of autobiographical graphic novels created by Satrapi. In that regard, the tale is infused with comedy and fantasy throughout, helping to keep interest and counter the heavy subject matter at the crux of it all. So much of this humor works perfectly—the figure study model cloaked, the “Punk is Ded” jacket, and early Bruce Lee moves, kicking another youngster in the head at a party—but a few times it can be somewhat cringe-inducing—the “Eye of the Tiger” montage came off hokey to me. Her vocal outbursts and putting lesser people (although in positions of power) in their place help shape her character and show how one can fight back against a country that gave up on its people without using physical violence herself.

The animation at times is absolutely breathtaking. Using color to delineate between the present storytelling Marjane with her story’s lead in black and white is well utilized, if a bit unnecessary considering her being in color has no bearing except for showing an older age. Where the movie truly succeeds, however, is in the heavy/dark moments. The stark contrast of the colorless majority really brings some weight to the proceedings. With somber music overlaying those sequences of battle and oppression, we are treated to some events that stay with you way after the film has finished. The initial siege after the fall of the Shah is fantastic with its black, silhouetted soldiers combining into a massive blob advancing on the innocent civilians. Even atmosphere is added with smoke and fog, a very nice trick for a field of depth that is completely two-dimensional using only overlapping layers to show space. My favorite piece, though, is a chase on the rooftops after an illegal party is broken up by the Guardians. In almost complete silence we see the pursuit right until its inevitable conclusion—heartbreaking.

Full credit goes to Satrapi for having the fortitude to not only survive the life she lived at such a young age, but also the ability to tell the world about it. I’m sure her stories have served as somewhat of a catharsis for herself, especially after seeing her Uncle Anoush tell his tales of exile and persecution so that the family’s story is known forever. She seems to have taken everything very seriously and put it upon herself to not let all those in her life to have died and suffered in vain. Always strong-willed and unafraid to speak her mind, she was the true revolutionary. Learning from experience and many mistakes of her own, Marjane grew up very fast and never forgot her heritage or her home. Even years later from the last time she stepped foot on Middle Eastern soil, she still answers a cabbie’s question of where she’s coming from, without pause, as Iran.

Persepolis 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

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