Monday, December 24, 2007
A visit to Persepolis
In his review of Persepolis in the current issue of Cineaste, my colleague Rahul Hamid nails what bugged me about the film, a wholly worthwhile endeavor that I enjoyed watching despite a creeping dissatisfaction. Co-director Marjane Satrapi took incidents from her childhood in Iran, as the mullahs took power, and transposed them into two well-received graphic novels. From her exile in France, she and Vincent Parannoud have turned them into an animated film, whose stylized black-and-white images are in old-school 2D, no digital gimmickry here.
Their screenplay is as unadorned as the animation; not artless, but it gets down to business without much fuss or moralizing. Young Marjane, who loves Bruce Lee and ABBA, finds herself in conflict with her classmates and the government at large as the comforts of Tehran, provided under the dubious stewardship of the shah, vanish. Off she goes to France, for a first round of culture shock, followed by another as she returns to her remaining family in Iran, proving, wistfully but defiantly, that you can't go home again. Vocally, the movie is a family affair: Marjane is voiced by Chiara Mastroianni, whose mother, Catherine Deneuve, provides the voice of Marjane's mom. (Marjane's tart grandmother is played by 91-year-old Danielle Darrieux, who in the press kit notes that she has lost count of how many times Deneuve has played her daughter.)
Not that I didn't like hearing these distinguished ladies grouse about hard times in Iran, but I think their Gallic charm works against the effectiveness of the piece. The movie seems to be taking place in the next arrondissement over, rather than in the mystery-shrouded capital whose history over the last 30 years has been veiled from us. Rahul says the books are much more time- and place-specific; the film is more of a gloss, humorous and poignant, but too simple, more of a primer. The Western, "just-like-us" side of the film dominates. I still recommend a viewing: Persepolis, which Sony Pictures Classics opens tomorrow, is an educational entertainment that neither bores nor patronizes, a rare-enough hat trick for movies here and abroad to pull off. And I will treasure a cinema-set scene that unites Madame de... and Godzilla, two of my all-time favorite film characters. But I felt the reduction from page to screen.