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Persepolis (2007)

October 27, 2010

8/10 Lives During Wartime

A surprisingly universal coming-of-ager set to a backdrop that a good deal of people will probably never experience.

Persepolis is the autobiography of one Marjane Satrapi detailing her upbringing in the midst of the Iranian Revolution from her days a rebellious youth with a jones for Iron Maiden to her woeful teen years of hard-learned self-discovery while studying abroad/struggling to survive in Austria. Eventually, she returns home a young woman and is once again forced to face the harsh reality of life under a tyrannical and corrupt regime that punishes sexuality and political activism with an firing squad.

Yeah, I didn’t know a damn thing about the Iranian Revolution going into this. Kudos to Satrapi for doing her best to break it all down so that a half-brained chimp like myself could understand it, but as with most cultural conflicts, the root of the issue isn’t exactly a cut-and-dry thing. All the same, the upside is that this is as much about Iran as it is about Satrapi’s wonderfully told life story that’s as hilarious and vibrant as it is tragic and unfortunate.

As a child, as a teen, and as a woman, Marjane Satrapi is freaking awesome. This is a gal who knows how to tell a story, and even if her whole life boiled down to freeloading on her parents’ La-Z-Boy, eating Doritos by the truck load and watching re-runs of The Price is Right, something tells me she’d still make it pretty damn captivating. As a narrator, she’s brilliant, and as a character, she makes the movie.

From a behavioral standpoint, Marjane changes a lot from age to age as she matures from pint-size freedom fighter to love-sick rebel; but when it comes to values, she’s a hunk of granite stuck in a culture where so many have gotten used to crumbling. She tells off cops when they tell her to cover up, she skips school to go buy heavy metal cassettes off the black market, she refuses to accept the place in society that everyone wants her to fit into, and that’s why she rocks. You might even call her a borderline badass. But aside from her beliefs and aside from her surroundings, she’s still your average girl trying to figure out exactly where her place in society is and that’s what makes her so relatable.

Despite the differences in worlds that she and I were brought up in, it’s wonderful how the most fascinating aspects of Marjane’s life are the ones that I felt like everyone goes through when they’re growing up. She battles depression, she gets back on her feet, she makes friends, she realizes they’re nothing like her, she falls in love, she gets her heart broken, she falls in love again, rinse, wash, repeat, and it’s amazing she somehow managed to capture all the highs and lows of figuring ourselves out in one pretty little nutshell. And that’s ’cause she’s honest. She doesn’t hide her mistakes and her highs are as invigorating as her lows are devastating, but whether there are bombs being dropped all around us or deer frolicking in the backyard, we’ve all been there at some point.

I mean, it’s hard to talk about this movie without just going off on Marjane because she is the movie. She’s the writer, she’s the director, she’s the artist, she’s the protagonist, and every last road leads back to her. But every compliment I can direct towards Marjane can just as much be said about her family. They’re the voices of wisdom, they’re the constants in her life and they’re as vital to who she is as the experiences she faces. Just some fantastic people who are wise beyond their years, people everyone could use in their lives.

But back to the art. What the animation lacks in color and detailed realism, simply gawking at still frames doesn’t do it justice. I was skeptical at first, but the animation here is more expressive, original and full of life than anything Pixar or Disney have put out since Toy Story. The black-and-white looks great for any mood that it tries to create, and even though it might not be all too impressive without seeing it action, it’s hard to forget such stark simplicity when everyone else seems to be reaching for the next big technical upgrade. Love it when folks take one step back to take two steps forward. So rare these days.

Now, I’ve never read the graphic novels this is based off of (they’re on my list), so with the whole war setting going for it, I thought this was going to be something along the lines of Maus. And while the end result is is entirely different from what I had initially imagined, I’m not disappointed in the least, but rather pleasantly surprised with how much more I ended up getting. When I think of some of my favorite autobiopics (should I trademark that word?), all the ones that come to mind are about men. Not sure why that is, but Marjane’s story really is up there with the best of them, and I can’t stop digging that. I love how up-front she is, I love how funny she is and it fucking rules to meet such a genuine, grounded, and awesome person such as herself.

From the foreign title to the vague poster to the deceptively simple animation, I can imagine this being a hard sell for some, but Persepolis really is something else. Just an expertly told story of a fascinating and familiar life from the last place I would think to find it. Right up there with Waltz with Bashir in terms of paving a new road for animated movies that excel in challenging, adult storytelling just as well, if not better, as a live-action movie can.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2010 12:07 am

    Okay, I’d never even heard of this film until now, but you’ve done enough to pique my interest man! While on the subject of films that come out of nowhere and blow you away, have you ever seen the Aussie film Mary & Max? It’s not a war/conflict film, but it is an animated one that will break your heart to watch. Worth a look!
    Anyway, I’m off to see if Persepolis is out here on DVD – or if I’m gonna have to get it from O/S!!!

    • October 27, 2010 4:44 pm

      Every time I go to the Anime section of Insant Netflix, I always see Mary & Max, I always see that it has a lot of stars, but I’ve never heard of it so I always skip over it. Will definitely add it to the queue now. Thanks for the heads up and hope you get around to checking this one out. Great stuff.

      • October 28, 2010 9:52 pm

        For the record, Mary & Max isn’t an anime film. It’s a stop-motion effort like Wallace & Gromit. Just so you don’t get a surprise if you’re expecting something different!

      • October 29, 2010 9:52 am

        Haha. Didn’t think it was, but thanks for the warning all the same.

  2. October 27, 2010 7:04 am

    Read the graphic novel, and I thought, like the graphic novel, was a very disturbing, but interesting treat. It’s themes may be a little bit out-dated, but it still has a lot of power in its story. Nice Review!

    • October 27, 2010 4:46 pm

      Thanks! It’s funny, I didn’t really find it disturbing – maybe the tone is different when you’re reading it as opposed to when you’re hearing & watching it – but definitely harrowing at times. I really gotta read those books, man. Adding it to the christmas list.

  3. Paragraph Film Reviews permalink
    October 27, 2010 7:04 am

    Great film. What with it looking so awesome it’s easy to drift away with the visuals but as you’ve noted the story itself is phenomenal. Educational, moving and provocative… great cinema. (Like you, I knew shit about Iran before this!)

    Highly recommended.

    Did you watch the subs or dubs? The original soundtrack is great but it’s dubbed by guys like Iggy Pop and Sean Penn… WTF?!?!

    • October 27, 2010 4:48 pm

      hahaha. i don’t think we’re alone on the whole Iran thing, buddy. totally agree though, easy film to get lost in for a number of different reasons.

  4. October 27, 2010 10:58 am

    I’m currently reading the graphic novel (when I can get away from class materials). If anyone is interested in a similar project I would highly recommend Guy Delisle’s “Pyongyang,” the story of an animator in North Korea.

    • October 27, 2010 4:48 pm

      Never heard of that, but thanks for the heads up. Will look into it along with these books. And thanks for visiting, man. Your site is totally kickass.

  5. October 28, 2010 6:09 pm

    Oh, I’ve been wanting to see this for a while, it’s in my long Netflix queue. Another blog friend of mine raved about this movie and I promised him I’ll watch it soon and you just convinced me even more. Interesting that you said they ‘… take one step back to take two steps forward’ in terms of their animation technology. To me, as long as the expression is there and the story is engaging, it can be as compelling as any slick and polished Disney/Pixar flick. Great review Aiden… as always.

    • October 28, 2010 6:35 pm

      Thanks! Totally agree about the animation, just seems to be an easier thing to lose sight of these days when technology typically becomes the most important thing. Alas…

      Looking forward to what you think though. Very much worth seeing.

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