Thursday, January 24, 2008

Review: Persepolis

To anyone who has the chance to catch Persepolis, I highly recommend this film. I know that many people will dismiss this movie because it’s animated and that the visual style is so simplistic, but I’ve already read several reviews agreeing that the fact that it’s animated heightens the ability to tell such an engaging story.

The film follows Marjane ‘Marji’ Satrapi growing up in Iran during times of massive political and cultural upheaval. The story is able to constantly stay focused on the human element but still manages to keep the audience up to speed with all of the relevant historical events. I could see how the duty of having so much exposition could easily swallow up the intimate story, but the necessary insight never seemed long or dry.

The animation was wonderful and had a clear stylistic direction. It was easy to get immersed in every little detail, from the cigarette smoke to the amorphous black shapes of the oppressive nuns.

It still amazes me how humans can so easily decipher a representation of the human form or face, no matter how simplified or abstracted. Look at the Simpsons who are very simplified, exaggerated caricatures. Yet we can read a sad or mad expression from a simple change in the curve of their giant eye-balls or an added line in their brow. The same goes for the characters in Persepolis. The style is simple but deliberate. Even subtle shifts of mood can be easily interpreted.

Another comparison that comes to mind is Pixar. I love their style and am constantly amazed by their lifelike renderings of backgrounds and objects. But their “actors” are always abstracted in a cartoonish way. You’d think that watching a character with a giant chin and stubby legs standing in a completely life-like setting would seem awkward. But that juxtaposition is what Pixar has established as their visual style, which they do very very well.

In contrast, every element in Persepolis seems perfectly born within it’s world. Everything fits in and looks like it belongs.

But as much as I’m a fan of animation, the story is what really shines in this film. Similar to what makes Pixar so brilliant, this film never loses it’s emotional core. I don’t go into movies looking to have every emotion tapped. I hate hearing commercials where some critic raves “I laughed, I cried...” Still, with this film, I felt as if I was guided through every possible emotion. It was easy to laugh at Marji’s childish innocence and antics, feel the dread of the ever-increasing persecution, relate to the literal floating off the ground in the throes of love, and tense up at the frustrating sense of helplessness as the world seemed to collapse into self-destruction.

The main characters were portrayed as fully fleshed out humans rather than generalized caricatures. The story wasn’t afraid to deviate from the portrayal of the protagonist as infallible. The scene of her as a child convincing her friends to chase down a boy and threatening to stab him with rusty nails was kind of scary if you really think about it. Though it made the story much more acceptable rather than viewing it under rose-colored glasses like some other biographies. Marji was energetic and loving, but also selfish and depressive. She had a fighting spirit but could wither under the rejection of others.

Persepolis looks like it’s limited to select theatres, which is a shame because it should be one that everyone sees. Alas, instead we get to choose from How She Move and National Treasure 2.

I will say that there are some damn good movies out lately. There Will Be Blood was amazing.

Persepolis site and trailer

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