Saturday, July 19, 2008

Persepolis: Grade B

Persepolis (2007)
Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux, Gabrielle Lopes; Co-writers & co-directors Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi. (French, subtitled)

This animated feature is an autobiography of Satrapi, who grew up in Teheran during the Islamic revolution, survived the long war with Iraq, and finally left for good to escape the oppression of the modern theocracy. Apparently there is a graphic novel (comic book) of this story, upon which the movie is based. The animation style is unusual, using only flat black and white areas, no shading, with close foregrounds and far backgrounds in a sepia tone, giving the scenes just a bit of depth against the very high contrast figures. Nearly every shot is vignetted, reminding us that it is a memoir. The style is simple, but not simplistic, as there are plenty of interesting angles, silhouettes, and unique point of view shots, including some fantasy and dream-like sequences that are the most creative parts of the film. There are a few colored scenes to indicate the present, but since 99% of the film is memoir, most is in black and white.

Satrapi apparently felt that Iranian people are not known in the West, except as violent fanatics, so this movie intends to demonstrate that she is, and most Iranians are, just ordinary folks like everyone else. That sentiment is expressed in the movie. There is also national pride in the selection of the title, as Persepolis was the magnificent palace of emperors Darius and Xerxes, built near Teheran after 518 BCE.

Despite its 95 minute length, the story drags after the novelty wears off, as anybody’s life story other than one’s own always will. It is no more nor less than the banal story of a girl growing up, going to college in Vienna, returning after the war to the oppressive theocracy, then finally moving to France. Nothing special happens to her or her wealthy, comfortable family, and she remains politically na├»ve, so the film sheds little light on Iranian or international political or cultural history. However, the autobiography seems honest and heartfelt, and it is easy to become emotionally engaged with the Satrapi character.

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