Persepolis (Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi, 2007)
Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis is quite the delectable treat. The Cannes Jury Prize winner (the film has the distinction of being the first time an animated film won anything from the prestigious film festival since René Laloux's The Fantastic Planet in 1973) inhabits the same pulpy aesthetic as its graphic novel predecessor as well as the comic's deliciously subtle and playful heart.
The film, like Satrapi's graphic novels, plays like a moving memoir; it's nearly embarrassingly personal yet touches on that very universal need to rebel and rise above the norm. The film itself could've been done as a live action film, or a cuter, cuddlier and more beautiful version of the comic books, but to do that would lose the edgy charm the present film has to offer. As it is, Persepolis is a breath of fresh air most especially from recent animated films (computer generated or otherwise) produced by the Hollywood factory.
A plain-looking Marjane (in appropriately dull colors) awaits her scheduled flight to Tehran; as accustomed, she puts on her Muslim veil (fellow travelers in the restroom give her suspicious glances --- post-9/11 prejudice in cartoons feels a lot more ridiculous, a lot more enraging); but she's no typical Muslim as she's clearly unhappy with that bothersome veil and starts smoking a cigarette (another fellow traveler gives her the evil eye --- second hand smoke kills more efficiently than the one inhaled and exhaled by chain smokers). She is to go back to her motherland, yet it is clear that fear and worries overpower excitement and nostalgia.
Most of the film is told in flashbacks, where the colors of Marjane's contemporary experiences are filtered to give an ancient black and white aesthetic. Her personal history precedes the overthrowing of the Shah; we get a glimpse of her naive mind that addresses heroism by the number of years spent in jail, and patriotism by the person's pedigree (she starts a violent chase of a kid whose father is rumored to be a prison warden responsible for the torture and deaths of so many patriots). Marjane's family is composed of her very politically aware parents and a grandmother who espouses modernity amidst the claustrophobic cultural diminution of the new government. The lovely mix-up comprises a huge chunk of the film's charm, humor and heart.
Most delightful about Persepolis is how Paronnaud and Satrapi were able to capture the volatile imagination of a young girl living during hard times. I was enamored when Marjane's uncle's tales (which are really oft-told political stories with abundant backbiting and legalese) are turned into to become gorgeously crafted fairy tales visualized like the shadow puppets of the late great Lotte Reiniger; or how more violent sequences are filtered of the usual crimson of blood and severed limbs but retain the same horrifying factor that keeps us wary of mindless wars and battles.
There's a mature sense of political thinking in the film's rather simplistic manner of storytelling, and when Marjane's youth-inflected curiosity is exchanged with coming-of-age apathy, we still sense an overpowering air of her poor Persia suffering while she is battling her personal demons in a strange European land. Satrapi (and co-director Paronnaud) knows her own story too well, well enough to tell it resoundingly right.