Thursday, May 5, 2011

Flick of The Day: Persepolis

I often feel like I am banging a drum, repeating a point of view in films of a similar theme, so do forgive me if this seems repetitious. A couple of weeks back, we looked at Waltz With Bashir, noting how it showed the power of animation to tell important stories that would otherwise not be possible without a vast Hollywood budget. Today's flick of the day, Persepolis is a similarly powerful story told in an artful manner.
Based on the best selling autobiographical graphic novel of the same name by Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis is the tale of a childhood lived under the fundamentalist regime of the Iranian Ayatollahs. Opening with Marjane sitting in the departure lounge of a Paris airport pondering her life, before we see her as 9 year old living in Tehran in 1978, a Bruce Lee fan that dreams of being a prophet. Adored by her grandmother, voice by Catherine Deneuve, Marjane has a unique view of the world around her and is at heart a free spirit. Of course with the fall of the Shah in 1979 and the rise of a religiously strict and intolerant regime, her world is thrown upside down. Marjane, being a teenager rebels against the rigid control of life under the Ayatollahs, listening to Heavy Metal and Punk, wearing denim and openly questioning the lies of her teachers as they cover up for the abuses of the State. Fearing for her safety and hoping to give her freedom to express herself, she is sent to a boarding school in Vienna in 1983. Of course Catholic nuns have never been known for their freedom of expression and Marjane finds herself once again railing against the system. After a series of events, Marjane finds herself sleeping rough for a few months before returning to Tehran in 1987. She attempts to live under the regime, attending University and eventually marrying, but her political dissent in a country where mass executions for political beliefs and petty religious absurdities have become common  place. Ultimately Marjane is forced to leave Iran, perhaps forever but it will always remains in her heart.
Although the film is for the most part shot in a stark black and white animation, it never feels weighed down or depressing despite dealing with subject matter far beyond anything dealt with in your average American animated film. This is perhaps because the animation is warm and familiar, however the use of black and white does give the film an air of oppression throughout. This air wonderfully recreates what life must have been like for a young girl trying to find her feet under a totalitarian regime. The film only takes on colour in the prologue and epilogue, the rest is shot through with this oppressive black and white, tellingly including the Vienna scenes.  This could become tiresome quite quickly and make the film unwatchable given the subject matter however it is saved by two things, stunningly beautiful visual invention and great storytelling. It is playful and beauty is found in even the darkest of scenes. The storytelling aspect is that humour is used throughout to leaven proceedings.

I remember I led a peaceful, uneventful life as a little girl. I loved fries with ketchup, Bruce Lee was my hero, I wore Adidas sneakers and had two obsessions: Shaving my legs one day and being the last prophet of the galaxy.

This is what film making is supposed to be about and anyone willing to get past the idea that animation is for entertaining young children and should thus be easily enjoyed, will find much to enjoy here. It is also a must see for anyone with even a passing interest in middle eastern history of the late 20th Century.

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