February 16, 2008

Movie Review: Persepolis

Persepolis is a film that has had a lot of positive buzz surrounding it. It has even garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. So, to say I was a little anxious to see it would be a little bit of an understatement. To that end, I avoided pretty much all of the reviews that have popped up for it; helps keep the palate clean. As I went in, all I knew about the film was that it was based on the graphic novel of the same name by Marjane Satrapi, it was a French production, and it is autobiographical about the author's time growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Beyond those few simple things, I knew nothing of how the story would play out. I entered the theater, with only a scant few others and sat down, awaiting the start of the show.

As the film ended and I exited the theater, I felt both amazed and flat. It was an odd feeling, one that would seem to be at odds with what you would normally have after seeing a movie. Generally speaking, my post theatrical experience is led by a more defined feeling. I may not always have the reasons, and occasionally they change by the time I put thought to paper (or screen as the case most often happens to be). In the case of Persepolis, I have found the conflicting feelings are still duking it out for control, although, the amazing feeling is winning. I don't think that either side will ever completely win in eradicating the other, but life goes on.

The feeling of flatness is generated primarily through the film not really changing anything. Yes, we follow Marji through many years of tumultuous events, but when the credits role, I am not so sure we actually went anywhere. It is a slice of life animation and nothing more. Because of this sense of running in place, and maybe some spotty pacing slowdowns, I could not help but feel just a tad disappointed. Although, theses issues could just be the film not living up to my expectations and be through no fault of the film or its makers.

On the other hand, Persepolis is quite an amazing achievement. Not only in the presented story (again, seemingly at odds with one of my problems), but also in the story's perspective, and it is a wonder of art design and animation. While the story did not seem to truly take off, it was still a beautifully personal tale, a coming of age story under turbulent circumstances.

What really makes it work so well is the tone and perspective that it is given. Throughout, we are always in the perspective of the author at the age she is portraying. This means, while the story is told in flashback, the omniscient narrator does not define the perspective. Everything is approached with the attitudes of Marjani Satrapi at the given age. When she is young from the beginning in the 1970's through the early 1980's, for the first half of the film, she is a precocious youngster who has an uncanny grasp of what is going on around her. She also has an insatiable curiosity, an energetic wonder that translates to the audience. We are put right at her level. It is quite amazing to watch these important life-changing events through the eyes of someone so young. As she grows into a young woman, the perspective grows, and we are taken right along with her through all of her experiences in the vast changing world of Iran through the 1980's and on into the 1990's.

As for the artistic choices, the look is surprisingly involving considering the spartan designs. The animation is stark black, white, and countless shades of gray. It is a style that is the complete opposite of the lush CGI creations, like Ratatouille, that we have become accustomed to. Despite the lack of color, save a couple scenes thoughout, the look is unique, modern, and throughly involving. It is different, yet it feels as personal as the story itself. We are drawn into the carefully crafted world that Marjane grew up in.

Now, I know I have not done much in describing the story. I feel that it is best to discover it in the theater as I did. The less you know, the more fresh your experience will be, and that is the best way to watch this film. Sit down, sink into the unique look, and proceed to be drawn into this carefully crafted world and watch how it develops.

Bottomline. Uniquely crafted and involving tale of a time I know little about. This offers some insight into a time of revolution and repression. It also gives us a first hand account of what it was like to grow up in this period. Persepolis could just as easily have been live action, but the animation style, inspired by the graphic novel, is simply stunning. I may have been left a bit flat at the end, but there is no denying the interest that is contained within. Do yourself a favor and see this movie.

Highly Recommended.


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