Laura CliffordA young girl, Marjane Satrapi (voice of Gabrielle Lopes), grew up in Tehran at the time when the Shah ruled Iran and a kid could be a kid. It is 1978, however, and the tide has turned against royal rule as the people take to the streets to overthrow the Shah’s government. Instead of democratic rule, the country is plunged into a civil war and young Marji’s life will forever change in “Persepolis.”
Based on the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, the author makes her co-directing debut, with feature newcomer Vincent Paronnaud, with her true-life story of a girl growing up amidst the turmoil and change that gripped Iran (and continues to do so). What we have here is an epic film spanning nearly two decades of Iran’s turbulent recent history. It is also a coming of age story that is perfectly aimed at intelligent femme teens not afraid of French subtitles or gettin’ a learnin’.
Done primarily in simple black and white animation – almost hand drawings, frequently – “Persepolis’s” elegance lay in this simplicity combined with the deft complexity of Satrapi’s very moving story. Through Marjane’s eyes, we live the relative freedoms permitted under the Shah, but also the repressions of his regime. There is hope, in his overthrow, that the country will establish democratic rule but the reactionary Islamic revolutionaries wrest power and take over Iran. We are thrust into the tragic eight-year war with Iraq and its decimation of the nation’s young men and its future. This is a film rich in its history – good and bad.
The epic-proportion story of Iran is beautifully melded with Marjane’s personal tale. We watch her grow from rebellious tomboy into a young woman while sent abroad to Vienna to escape the religious repression and the war. Marji’s stubborn nature and independent spirit force her to making life decisions that affect her just as her country undergoes dramatic political change. It is a deft combination of personal story and social epic told evenly, intelligently and with humor and wit. The tragedies suffered by Marji and her homeland hit home with, on one hand, her downward spiral into homelessness in Vienna to the horrific narration (with subtle animation) of how the mullahs sent tens of thousands of unarmed Iranian teenaged boys across Iraqi minefields to clear paths for the army’s tanks.
Persepolis” is a finely crafted film on many levels. The 2D animation, though simple, is nicely mated with fine narration and vocal characterizations – including Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni (Deneuve’s daughter, with Marcello Mastrioanni), Danielle Darrieux and Simon Abkarian. The actors flesh out their animated selves, allowing the viewer to get to know the people who have seen so much death, destruction and tragedy but with the resolve to survive.
It is not often, come the end of the year where my favorite animation is also one of my top ten films. Persepolis” is one of those rare movies. There is an English language version out there but it should be seen in its original French. I hope the tweenie femme dem gives it a chance. I give it an A.
Marjane Satrapi was a tomboy in 1980's Iran, beating up boys and dancing in sneakers to pop records in her Bruce Lee-postered bedroom. Her happy lifestyle would undergo a dramatic change when Islamic revolution takes hold and her freedoms are curtailed. A loving family sends the teenaged Marji to Vienna for a European vacation, but life in democracy poses different challenges and the young girl yearns for the ancient heritage of "Persepolis."
Writer/directors Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi have adapted an autobiographical graphic novel into a magical animation, one that presents a universal coming of age story within exotic locales with the simplicity and whimsy of folk art. This is a charmed film, one in which every production choice, from animation to voice casting to the black and white/color art direction is note perfect.
Marjane 'Marji' Satrapi (voice of Deneuve's daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, as an adult, Gabrielle Lopes as a child) is introduced as an adult, in color, in a Parisian airport grimly awaiting a flight to Tehran, then tone changes completely when we're flashed back to black and white 1978 where Marjane as a child exhibits a comical personality. The child is enveloped by an exasperated yet loving mother (voice of Catherine Deneuve), an understanding, sensible father (voice of Simon Abkarian, "Yes") and a doting grandmother (voice of Danielle Darrieux, "8 Women"). When the revolution begins, at first the tales of torture and rebellion overheard during adult visits seem exciting and Marji throws her black and white idealism in with the revolutionaries, but her world turns gray when her political education begins.
Satrapi educates her audience as well, delivering a historical catchup on ancient Persia via a stylish 'paper' marionette play, and showing her current day in incidents far reaching (children encouraged to martyrdom by clearing minefields) and personal (morality police chiding women for improper dress). The young woman sent to Vienna discovers that freedom entails harsh economics and that the friends one chooses influences one's values. And then there are boys. And that last is one of the elements that makes Satrapi's story so utterly riveting and even entertaining - throughout there is a perfect balance of individual experience, universal recognition, and reverberating political upheaval. It's genius storytelling that describes devastating facts in one scene and has a laugh on itself the next.
In addition to the tale we are told, there are the remarkable visuals used to tell it. The animation is simple in rendering people, but landscapes are often elaborate and the overall effect is striking. It is the best animation work of the year. Vocal performances (there is presumably an English language version of "Persepolis," but the original French language version is being reviewed) are all wonderful, with Darrieux creating one of the most sublime matriarchs in cinema history.
Along with Julie Gavras's "Blame It on Fidel," France has given us two unique portraits of political revolution through the eyes of a young girl this year. They'd make a great double bill, but as fine a film as Gavras's is, "Persepolis" is the more audacious artwork.
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