Sunday, January 20, 2008


Cast (Voices): Chiara Mastroianni (Marjane 'Marji' Satrapi, teenager /woman), Gabrielle Lopes (Marjane, child), Danielle Darrieux (Marjane's grandmother), Catherine Deneuve (Marjane's mother), Simon Abkarian (Marjane's father)
Director: Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud
Country: France
Runtime: 95 min.
Rating: *****
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama

As I turned the final few pages of Iran Awakening, Shirin Ebadi’s poignant account of her long standing struggle for her rights, and her fight for the rights of woman and children in Iran, some part of me choked somewhere. A girl brought up on virtues, in a rather modest Tehran family, who goes onto become the first female jurist of her country. Yet the book isn’t an account of her achievements; it shares her disillusionment, her insecurities about herself, her two daughters, her friends, and her country. Emotions that might ring true with any person irrespective of time, age, sex or political decree.
Persepolis is about Marjane Satrapi, a similar woman born into a similar family and brought up on similar virtues, the only point of divergence being she represents those for whom Ebadi fights. Marjane, or Marji as she’s lovingly called, shares the same insecurities about her country, and the same disillusionment, which occupies a considerable portion of her account. All the while though, it shares equal footing with Marji’s experiences as she grows from a boisterous little girl, her parents never stopping short of fuelling her excitement, into a weary little lady.

Iran, and its people have always caught my imagination. Much of the image that I’ve painted of their life, and what it feels to be an Iranian sure does stem out of pages of books, but I would never miss a chance to interact with them. I perceive, of all the peoples of the world, Iranians as a macrocosm of the revolutionary man, and their country a microcosm of the revolutionary world. They might seem to be caught in the rigors of life, but deep down their instinct does tend towards freedom of thought and expression. Satrapi’s account, too, might seem a confusing confluence of aspirations caught up between sharing the political upheavals of her country and the dramatic disorder as she breaks into adolescence on foreign soil. In the honesty of that confusion, she echoes the voice of that girl, her innocence asking her to believe that she’s a princess to change the world, and the world in turn gradually asking her to reply to that innocence of the futility of its question.
The world of 3-D animation, driven by ever-evolving technology, is fast encroaching every little place available. For obvious reasons, which if one might care to jot down would read along the lines of better visual experience. Here, it is two-dimensional, and more importantly, almost the entire picture is painted in black & white. Color does come in for a moment or two, when Marjane reminisces her life in the present. Let me tell you, it is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen at the movies all year – the added contrast, the caricatures, the energy in the narration – the entire visual style deployed the want in me for the film to go on. I wanted to stay in that world of hers, and wanted her to share every moment of it. I’m not sure if I would have gathered the patience to read if Marjane penned down an autobiography out of her account, or made a dramatic film of some kind. She chooses the world of animation, and it has great power, this world. She calls it Persepolis, referencing that old city of Persia. No wonder her two graphic novels, Persepolis 1 and Persepolis 2 (the source of this film) are such a huge success.

There is great humor in the innocence of her account, great intelligence, and I believe there exists no better medium to express it. This isn’t a fable, not even by the remotest stretch of the imaginations, and choosing animation, which is readily assumed to provide such tales, adds an ironical depth to her narration. She explores new avenues for animation – what is truth and what is her view – among many others while readily mocking herself, all with a grace worthy of the standards Marji was raised in. Her life has encountered events, as dramatic as anyone who has grown up in Iran of the 70s and 80s, yet the beauty lies in her ability to render a tale worthy of the medium, and the medium, in turn, never felt worthier of a tale.
This film doesn’t feature in the nine titles shortlisted by the Academy (Oscars) for the category of Best Foreign language film (it was France’s official entry), and although this is a marvelous motion picture worthy of automatic entry for any awards I suspect I might know the reasons behind its exclusion. The sort of reasons that drew reactions even before its screening at Cannes last year.
If you find yourself with an option, choose the French version of the film. The natural sweetness of the nasality of the language brings great innocence to little Marji, and although I do not understand an ounce of it, I’ll watch the film again, sans the subtitles, just to listen to its charm and enjoy the magic in those images. One of the unique experiences of 2007, one that is sure to be remembered for some time to come.

1 comment:

Atrisa said...

This one stayed unwatched in my hard disk too long. I thought it was an animated flick, I'm not particularly fond of those. But boy oh boy did it turn out to be something else. There were parts in it a little tough for me to comprehend because of the political context but it was definitely something I hadn't seen before.