Sunday, August 19, 2007

Persepolis (2007)

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.


Anonymous said...

Malapit na ang Bar exams. Magaral ka na muna.

Anonymous said...


My comment has nothing to do with this particular review, although I must admit I prefer your reviews over those featured in undeserved spaces of the PhilStar and Inquirer. Anyway, I just want to ask you where in Manila can I find copies of Filipino film classics, such as those made by Lino Brocka, Mike de Leon, et. al.


Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the nice words. You can purchase classic Filipino movies from Astrovision (Kislap sa Dilim, Macho Dancer, some of the Regal Platinum titles). For harder to find titles, go to Mag:Net (the Katipunan branch has a few titles) or to CCP (their shop has Ina, Kapatid, Anak, Manila by Night, Relasyon, and some other nice titles). I think the only Mike de Leon films to have a DVD release are Batch 81, Sister Stella L and Bayaning Third World (which are readily available in any Astrovision branch, if you're lucky).

To anonymous,

Thanks for your concern.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the quick response -- surprising to see you still have time when you're probably knee-deep in your bar review these days. Good luck in that.

By the way, since your interests include both laws and movies, I'm curious to know what your thoughts are about the present MTRCB and whether it has been doing its job according to its mandate. Though I have lived in California over the last 10 years (and come home at least once a year), it seems to me that each new board of reviewers brings its own, sometimes different, interpretations of the law. I could be wrong, but it also seems to me that there's more censorship now (especially with TV shows) than there was 5 years ago.


Oggs Cruz said...

The MTRCB law is in dire need of a rehaul. It's ancient legislation which was carried on from paranoid Marcos' administration (thus, the MTRCB can "censor" programs that touch on the political because there's this vague definition there; which is why they were able to put an X rating in Erap's documentary).

You're correct, the MTRCB statute gives the chairman/woman so much powers and doesn't define the law to such a meticulous degree that the censorship law hinges on the personality of the board. That's why we had such a strict MTRCB under Manoling Morato, and a very lax one under Armida Siguion-Reyna.

As to what I think, the present MTRCB statute is unconstitutional. If it's tested with another case (the past Board barely survived judicial review when it X'd Lino Brocka's Kapit sa Patalim) and the lawyers know what they're doing, some parts of it might be declared unconstitutional. Our censorship board doesn't follow the standards passed on by the jurisprudence of the United States. It's a real pity.

Anonymous said...

If "the MTRCB statute gives the chairman/woman so much powers", I guess it's not overreaching for Chairwoman Laguardia to be admonishing TV hosts on how to dress properly and suspending them if they fail to do so. If you ask me, I'd rather see TV hosts and guests alike wear sexy or skin-revealing clothing than to see them covered up as if it's winter in the Philippines. It may be cold inside the TV studios, but wearing a leather jacket over a turtleneck? That definitely deserves a suspension.

Anonymous said...

Its definitely overreaching and unconstitutional. The problem is the local television stations and artists do not have the balls to confront the problem of overarching censorship (censorship is always overarching), and even the Supreme Court has not had the spine to confront censorship the way it should be confronted - by maintaining an absolutist attitude for the protection of the preferred freedoms - those of speech and expression - which constitutional discourse has always maintained to be of the highest tier in our constellation of political and civil rights.

By the way OGGS, what is the difference between a political and a civil right? Why is the Writ of Amparo important nowadays? What is the Writ of Amparo? BAKA ITANONG SA BAR BECAUSE THE NEW SECURITY ACT HAS NOW MADE THE WRIT AN IMPORTANT REMEDY.

Anonymous said...


Oggs Cruz said...

I actually find it funny that this is being discussed under the Persepolis post, since the Iranian government is doing everything to prevent the film from being showed (that's why it was removed from the Bangkok International Film Festival).

Both anonymouses,

The writ of amparo is so special because it's a remedy that surpasses the weaknesses of the writ of habeas corpus. It's borrowed from Mexican jurisprudence and can be used by our Supreme Court since it has the power to promulgate its own rules. The Human Security Act is a statute that overreaches into the basic freedoms protected by our Constitution, which is why a stronger writ (Amparo) is needed to protect us from the probable abuses of the HSA.

Siguion-Reyna was lax because she was working under the shroud of being the chairman of the MTRCB; compared to Morato and Laguardia, she is lax. That doesn't mean I don't agree that the best solution is just to get rid of the stupid law, but how? Congress (if it's not too busy politicizing) or judicial review (but our movie industry is too poor to fund an all-out litigation against the MTRCB (didn't you notice the latest attackers of the MTRCB are huge broadcast networks) and they'd rather sacrifice artistic integrity than lose millions of pesos)

Poltical Rights vs Civil Rights; the former includes the right to vote, hold public office, etc. The latter includes the right to be parties to a contract, etc.