Friday, March 19, 2010

Archive: 'Persepolis'

Movie Review
Persepolis (2007)

The same year that brought us the magnificent "Ratatouille," which redefined the way we watch animated films, has also brought us "Persepolis," a witty and touching coming-of-age tale about a young Iranian girl named Marjane. The movie is based on two autobiographical graphic novels by Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi and is directed by her and Vincent Paronnaud. While told entirely through 2-D black and white animation with tinges of gray and splashes of color here and there, it's a story that's full of intelligence, surprise, charm, and warmth.

The movie wouldn't work if it were animated any other way, and especially if it wasn't animated at all. Without it, the story and experiences couldn't be dramatized as they are. Marjane's actions are sometimes outspoken, she makes mistakes, and she's certainly no heroine. But she is a woman who indeed comes of age, and without this animation, her story couldn't have been so interestingly and engagingly told. There couldn't be the same level of expression because, yes, there is a wide range of expression within such simplistic features. The scenes are beautiful, bursting to life with bold black lines, so much to the point that you may begin taking the film's gorgeous execution for granted. In an age of CG-animated films, it is nice to see that honest storytelling doesn't rely on the technology. Its stylized depiction of tragedy and recovery makes it more effective, more magical, and yes, more real. It tells a complicated tale through cinematic poetry in black and white.

Marjane (Chiara Mastroianni) fondly recalls upon the first ten or so years of her life as she's comfortably surrounded by her loving and independent family. She loves Bruce Lee, pop music, and her Adidas sneakers. Soon though, the Shah's dictatorship falls, the Islamic revolutionaries rise, and soon the nation is under the rule of the mullahs, changing everything. Marjane's mother and grandmother (Danielle Darrieux) are forced to wear scarves and aren't allowed to show themselves or wear any makeup. There's also no drinking, no smoking, and no contact from the opposite sex. As Marjane grows older into her teen years, even under her own scarf, she rebels with a strong sense of independence and love for punk music.

The political history behind Marjane's story is smartly and vividly told through clever illustrations that include the horrors of war, torture, and execution. The movie's focus, however, is more on the uncertainty and confusion that comes with adolescence and growing up. There's excellent juxtaposition of the political and the personal with a sassy and nonchalant tone. While the history of the matter is presented, no real generalization or conclusion is brought up; we're just following Marjane as she moves along in life. This includes being sent away to Austria to avoid the worst of the regime's restrictions.

While away, Marjane begins losing herself even more, finding nothing true to hold onto within the alternative European culture. She hates herself and gets lost in the carefree ways of casual sex and drug use. She even begins introducing herself as French rather than Iranian, which still doesn't give her the respect she desires. And so, missing her roots, she returns home to Iran where she's still homesick for a country that no longer exists. She, along with the real Marjane Satrapi who lived the tale, realizes her need to find her place not only in the world but also within herself where she can yet again feel at home and comfortable. Through the help of her feisty grandma, who hilariously presents the outspoken feminist, she begins to grasp the meaning of a sense of self, asking the world to bring it on. After a period of depression, Marjane especially means business in her adorably humorous rendition of "The Eye of the Tiger."

Marjane certainly has her ups and downs from beginning her tale in 1978 all the way through to 1992, and yet no synopsis of her experience will ever be enough to convey the experience a person will have watching it all unfold with such fluidity and grace. It's a truly enchanting film, one of such imaginative breadth and richness in character that you wouldn't believe it coming from the seemingly plain 2-D images on screen. While "Persepolis" did actually come out late last year, it's just now getting released around here in its original French-language version with an English dub soon to follow. It's a movie not to be missed in any language as it sparkles with sincerity, whimsically finding such meaning and universality in its simplicity.

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