What I really appreciate about Foreign cinema is its innate ability to make the simplest of concepts powerful without stooping to “dressing up” gimmicks that Hollywood is so prone to do. Another medium in filmmaking that is seen very differently in Japan, Korea and even the continent of Europe is the animated medium; while most of American filmmakers see animation as a form only suited for kids or the “young at heart” with concepts so formulaic just so they can please the usual movie-going crowd. Other countries see the medium as something very suited for "mature thought-provoking” material that few directors here in the U.S. have even acknowledged. The animated medium here has always been seen as a mere industry while in other countries, they've been seen as a form of artistic expression.
Well, my friend @Christy
(yes, this person is a true cinema fan) sent me one of the major Indie successes of 2008 with a nomination for best Foreign language feature in the Golden Globes, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and winner of “Best Animated feature” in the New York Critics Choice awards. (How a Pixar movie can beat this at the Oscars is beyond me). Based on the autobiographical graphic novel written by Marjane Satrapi of the same name, “PERSEPOLIS” is the story of a young girl who comes of age during a time when the Iranian revolution raged. The film was written and co-directed by Satrapi herself along with Vincent Paronnaud and was filmed in France. I’ll get right to the point; “Persepolis” is a true gem of REAL cinema.
The story begins when a present day Satrapi (voiced by Chiara Mastriaonni) who sits in an airport, trying to decide whether she should board the next flight to Iran after spending many years away from her homeland. An airport is a portal to wherever you want to go, including a portal to your memories. Marjane’s thoughts shift to the time when she was a child, when her heroic uncle (Francois Jerosme) teaches her the history of Iran while her liberal parents (voiced by Simon Abkarian and Catherine Deneuve) are trying to work to affect change. Her grandmother (Danielle Darrieux) is someone who had seen it all. Because of the complications in Iran, Marjane is sent to Vienna to live as a teenager. What is surprising is the fact that the Europeans are every bit as intolerant and close-minded as the fundamentalists are at home. After Marjane’s disastrous years, she returns home as she tries to find her home. But things aren’t as easy as they seem. Marjane was sent away for good reason, should she get on that plane?
“Persepolis” has a very clever style and is filled with skillful storytelling. Much of the film occurs in flashbacks and mostly animated in black and white. The film manages to preserve the look and feel of a comic book yet, ever remaining faithful to true human emotions that provides the direction a sort of visual malleability that no other animated movie can achieve that dwells on Iranian “folklorian” artwork. The story is seen through Marjane’s eyes; we see her grow up as she begins to idolize her elders, develop her own taste for music and film, become interested in men and sex, grow as a woman and then finally realize her own beliefs. This movie is a “coming of age” tale of the protagonist.
In the film we see the things that Marjane had experienced in her life and the animation gives the movie some bits of symbolism as we see judgmental old people become snakes as their black robes fill the frame. Yes, the movies brings the repressed ideology that have plagued countries ruled by fundamentalist. Women are supposed to hide under a veil, virgins cannot be executed for a crime and yet they can be deflowered before such an execution, a place where parties are the only diversion yet is outlawed, a place where you cannot even keep company with the opposite sex . Such pretentious ideology impedes progress and depends solely on its citizens to remain illiterate as so the authorities can maintain control; "independent thinking" is banned in this world. We see Marjane’s world and what it meant for her. We see the evils of religious ideologies driven to extremes and the effort for a country to find the right form of government. Movies like this, tend to make me think of the freedom we enjoy and yet oftentimes we take fore granted.
I love this movie. It clearly shows the evils of repression that can lead to obsession and misdirection. “Persepolis” is a rare insight into a country that most of us don‘t know anything about. I loved the way the movie maintained its wit and charm despite its very mature subject matter. The writing has shown us that a country’s struggles and one individual’s innermost struggle can parallel one another; after all there is barely any difference between a betrayed love and the hopes of a better tomorrow that leads to fascism. “Persepolis” is a brilliant kind of literary adaptation. It keeps its comic book tone and mood yet it manages to bring its powerful messages across with its brilliant dialogue that just makes it far more important. The filmmakers knew what they were doing when they made this film.
So I would highly advise you to refrain judging animated movies as something only for a kid and give “Persepolis” a try. This is no Pixar film, this is definitely one of the most brilliant movies I may have ever seen.
Highest Possible Recommendation! [4 ½ + Stars]
HYPE LEVEL: Low for a Film of this Quality in the U.S.. Quality Films such as this need to be given the respect it deserves.