“Trust the people. They’ll do all they can to keep their freedom now.”
2007. Rated PG-13. France. Out on DVD. Written and Directed by Marjane Satrapi & Vicent Paronnaud. Based on the graphic novels by Satrapi. With the voices of Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux, Simon Abkarian, Gabrielle Lopes & Francois Jerosme.
Persepolis, which scored an Oscar nomination last year for Best Animated Feature, is a French film about an Iranian girl, Marjane Satrapi and her life growing up in Tehran, and later Vienna. It stirred some controversy when the current Iranian government protested its showing at the Cannes film festival, but the furor died down a bit, I think, when people realized it’s not a particularly controversial film. Sure, it criticizes some past governmental actions and shows the downsides of a repressive society, but it’s more a film about the character and her experiences.
The story, told in a series of vignettes, is essentially broken into three parts, beginning with Marjane’s childhood, the second her adolescence and the third her young adulthood. The first, covers her childhood during the revolution and then the Iran/Iraq war, is a lot more plot-driven and although it’s fairly interesting from a historical point of view, Marjane is just so brutally annoying as a child. Kudos to her for showing herself in an unflattering light, but it was definitely a distraction to an otherwise strong segment.
The second focuses on a more universal theme of Marjane going through adolescence not knowing where exactly she fit in. It focuses on her relationships, both with her friends and her first loves, and this was when I found her most interesting as a character. The third segment covers her young adulthood, and was probably the weakest of the three. A sequence set to “eye of the tiger” absolutely did not work, and none of the film’s strongest vignettes were featured in this time period, which kind of led the story to go out with a whimper.
As far as the look goes, my first thought about the animation style was, “this is like a graphic novel come to life,” and then, of course, after watching it and reading about it, I realized it was indeed based on a series of graphic novels by Satrapi. The majority of the film is in black and white, with small snippets in color and the visuals, though simple by Pixar standards, are definitely nice to look at.
There are some strong moments, and it’s certainly an interesting and unique film, especially to an American audience, but parts of it just did not hold my attention well. Yes, I know it’s a memoir, and ostensibly it is staying true to her life and not making it a Hollywood version, but I did not find her character very compelling nor did she show much development. I realize not every movie needs to involve the main character learning or growing, but the nature of a movie made up of vignettes without a really strong arc is that some will be hits and some will be misses.
It is worth seeing, if only because it tells a story pretty foreign to most people and does so with nice visuals in a mostly interesting way. It also gives an authentic look into a country whose relations with ours will only grow more important, and humanizes its people – for that alone, it is a worthwhile endeavor.