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In 1970s Iran, Marjane 'Marji' Statrapi watches events through her young eyes and her idealistic family of a long dream being fulfilled of the hated Shah's defeat in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However as Marji grows up, she witnesses first hand how the new Iran, now ruled by Islamic fundamentalists, has become a repressive tyranny on its own. With Marji dangerously refusing to remain silent at this injustice, her parents send her abroad to Vienna to study for a better life. However, this change proves an equally difficult trial with the young woman finding herself in a different culture loaded with abrasive characters and profound disappointments that deeply trouble her. Even when she returns home, Marji finds that both she and homeland have changed too much and the young woman and her loving family must decide where she truly belongs. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Persepolis is one of the most thoughtful, poignant and original films I have ever seen. Hang on, "poignant" and "thoughful", an animated movie (and based on a comic-book, on top of that)? Exactly, because coincidentally Persepolis also happens to be the first really adult "cartoon" I've had the pleasure to watch (Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly don't count, as they were filmed with real actors first, and subsequently modified in post-production). For all their good intentions, the likes of Dreamworks and Pixar always have an eye for what the little ones want to see, while The Simpsons, despite the occasional "mature" storyline (basically Homer and Marge's sex life), contains nothing a 12-year old isn't supposed to see. As for Family Guy and South Park, they might be aimed at grown-ups with their merciless satire and, in the case of the latter series, explicit language, but are made with an almost puerile sense of joy which prompts younger kids to watch them in secret. Persepolis, on the other hand, deals with adult themes in a serious, unpretentious way. So yes, it is an animated film. Yes, it is based on a comic-book. And yes, there is the occasional neat movie reference (Rocky III being the most memorable one). That doesn't mean it's a kids' movie, though; it just means the picture was made with a particular style because it was the most effective way to tell this specific story.
And what is so special about the story? Well, it is an account of what is going on in contemporary Iran, a topic that is more relevant today than it's ever been before. And the extra layer of poignancy derives from the fact that co-director Marjane Satrapi experienced every single event in the film. After moving to France to avoid the increasingly oppressive political situation that had developed in Teheran (which the ancient Greeks called Persepolis, hence the movie's title), she published her autobiography in the form of a graphic novel, which immediately became a cult phenomenon. With the help of artist Vincent Paronnaud, the stylized drawings have become a motion picture which has already conquered critics and won several awards (the Jury Prize in Cannes being one of them).
The film's strict adherence to the book's style makes for simple but powerful viewing: the simple pictures ensure the story doesn't need to be filtered, but can be understood right away, while the use of black and white provide the images with a strength that would otherwise be missing. A good example is a scene depicting a demonstration against the despotic regime in Iran and the subsequent shooting of one of the protesters, whose body is left lying on the ground: as his blood starts to flow, the corpse almost merges with the environment, giving the shot (pun not intended) an emotional relevance it wouldn't have, had the whole thing been in color. The choice of animation proves to be particularly effective in a most unusual choice for this kind of film, namely fantasy sequences: there is a hilarious moment, for instance, when Marjane, during a stay in Vienna, looks back on her disappointment in love and sees her ex-boyfriend as a depraved freak; live-action would have ruined that scene, undoubtedly. As it is, however, it comes off not as a bizarre formal experiment, but a fundamental tool for understanding the heroine's psychology.
That said, it should also be noted that Persepolis isn't just a bold take on the difficulties in the Middle East. As seen in Clint Eastwoood's Iwo Jima double bill, the line between "heroes" and "villains" is very thin, and the film never misses the opportunity to show how bad our own society can be: Marjane ends up hating Europe more than her home-country, and at the beginning a flashback shows the British government's role in manipulating Iranian politics for money's sake. Incidentally, the latter scene is depicted as a puppet show, providing a new, fresh angle: what sets truth apart from fiction?
Persepolis works because it handles an uncomfortable subject with grace, using a simple but constantly effective storytelling technique and never once pandering to audience expectations with the usual 'toon gimmicks (even the casting proves that: except for Catherine Deneuve, who plays the low-key role of Marjane's mother, there are no famous voices in the feature). It sticks to traditions and stretches the medium at the same time, showing that animation is no longer a "children's genre" and therefore delivering a new way to look at film-making and its possibilities. For this reason, and several more, it is one of the best pictures of 2007.
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