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Worth A Look: 33.33%
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3 reviews, 6 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Wonderful in nearly every detail."
5 stars

In recent years, "Persepolis" has been sliding into the spot that "Maus" used to occupy: The socially-relevant graphic novel that makes inroads into the mainstream and is used as an example of how the medium is good for more than just adolescent fantasies. Creator Majrane Satrapi has been given the chance to do the same thing with animation, and she's done quite the job of it.

The film is a memoir of Marjane's early life. She was a small child in Iran when the Shah was deposed, and although her liberal, intellectual family is initially optimistic when some political prisoners are released, things soon get worse under the Islamic government than they had been before. Eventually, her parents send Marjane to school in Europe, but she has trouble there, too. Eventually she returns to Iran, and though she mostly stays out of trouble, she still feels penned in by the limits on a woman's freedom there.

Fans of graphic fiction have long grumbled about how movie studios continually made things more difficult on themselves than necessary when they choose to adapt these works - why make so many changes when you can buy a complete set of storyboards for twenty bucks at the bookstore? Persepolis is a compelling argument in favor of that argument; this movie's images come straight from the printed page with Satrapi's clean, simple character designs intact. Though she shares screenplay and directorial credit with Vincent Paronnaud, it's a remarkably unfiltered adaptation.

It is an adaptation; part of what makes Persepolis such an enjoyable movie is how Satrapi and Paronnaud use movement so well. As a child, Marjane is a bundle of energy who loves Bruce Lee, and she zips about the screen, her eyes in motion even when the rest of her is standing still. The older Marjane is often stiff and slumped, moving slowly and in a straight line as she buckles under the pressure to conform. As much as the film's roots as a comic are obvious in its design, episodic structure, and frequent use of narration to span gaps in the narrative, it feels like a movie.

I adore the way Satrapi presents her child-self; even as the film contrasts the serious, dire doings in the adult world with her innocence, Marjane's not a cutesy, idealized kid. She's kind of a brat, actually, and just because she doesn't know the significance of what's going on around her doesn't mean she doesn't occasionally absorb the worst of it. Marjane starts out as a great cartoon character, with a great voice (provided by Gabrielle Lopes Benites) to match; that Satrapi and Paronnaud manage to adroitly grow her into more, while occasionally still finding a way for that impishness to emerge from the more elegant teenager and adult voiced by Chiara Mastroianni.

The movie divides clearly into three acts - childhood in Iran, adolescence in Europe, and womanhood back in Iran. I must admit to preferring the two in Iran; Marjane's father, mother, grandmother, and uncle Anouche are all delightful characters, and it's fascinating and tragic to watch them deal with life under the Shi'ite regime, expected to become different people practically overnight and forced to hide who they are. The European middle of the film does an interesting job of pointing out how the Western world can be not so much different as a mirror image - Marjane will feel compelled to discount her Persian identity and present herself as French, and the supposedly more sophisticated and intellectual people there will fail Marjane just as much as the zealots at home will - but it does lack any supporting characters who linger in our minds when they pass out of Marjane's life. In some ways, though, that just does a better job of making Marjane a stranger in a strange land, whether she's at home or abroad.

"Persepolis" probably could have been adapted as live action, but I'm glad it hasn't been. Satrapi can inject whimsy into a terrible situation because she and her partners can control every single thing we see on the screen. That kind of ability to handle every detail pays off in spades.

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originally posted: 02/09/08 11:49:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2007 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2007 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/07/09 Anonymous. a unique story. :] 5 stars
8/24/08 AnnieG Like most rtue life stories, there is no real plot, but still worth watching. 4 stars
2/18/08 Robert Excellent film, engaging and witty throughout. 5 stars
11/06/07 denny great film --have to check out the books 4 stars
9/08/07 Cathy A 'film' rendition that lives up to the original text 5 stars
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  25-Dec-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Jun-2008



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