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

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by Lybarger

"A cartoon that’s more insightful and fun than most news reports."
5 stars

Iranian-born cartoonist Marjane Satrapi’s seemingly-simple drawings reveal a fascinatingly complex picture of life in her native county and the world as a whole. Her autobiographical comic book ‘Persepolis’ is a witty, insightful, heart-breaking and consistently engrossing. The new Oscar-nominated animated film from France has thankfully retained all the charm and spirit of the original text and is essential on its own terms.

Satrapi and French writer-director Vincent Paronnaud (“Raging Blues”) have teamed up on the new animated adaptation, so her story has made it to the screen intact. Except for a framing device where Satrapi’s animated self sits in a French airport mulling over her fate with her ever-present cigarettes, the film is presented in a black-and-white animation style mimics her graphic novel. The cell-animated film features delicate ink wash backgrounds and distinctive Persian motifs.

More importantly, Satrapi’s vision, which can be both caustic and compassionate, and her vivid storytelling are preserved as the film recounts her turbulent upbringing. In examining her own life, she helps make Persian culture easier to understand and helps give her viewers and readers a sense of how Iran has evolved since her childhood.

Satrapi was ten years old when the Shah of Iran fell from power in 1979. Her middle class parents hoped that the country would be a place where their free-thinking ways would no longer get them into trouble.

The Islamic revolution quickly dashed those hopes. Her Communist uncle, who had been jailed under the Shah, wound up returning to prison to die. New repressive laws emerge that require women to wear headscarves and forbid consumption of alcohol.

If you’re expecting a history lesson, think again. Satrapi has a quirky imagination. In early sequences, the younger version of herself talks directly with God, who seems unsure of what to make of the unruly wannabe prophet.

Iran also fought a long and costly war with Iraq where Satrapi witnessed some of its horrors firsthand. She watched people getting into fistfights over food and saw the wreckage of civilian buildings that Saddam Hussein’s forces targeted.

When Satrapi became a teenager (voiced by Chiara Mastroianni), her rebellious nature (she proudly listened to Western heavy metal and deviated from the national dress code) worried her parents (Catherine Deneuve and Simon Abkarian) and her wise grandmother (Danielle Darrieux).

Her family sent her to a French school in Austria where she experienced prejudice as well as the stresses of adolescence. Her difficulties sent her back to an uncertain future in Tehran.

In recounting her youth, Satrapi and Paronnaud present a cornucopia of emotions: from biting humor when she recalls the rules forced on her as a child to heartbreaking sorrow over the loss of some of her relatives. The two spare no outrage over the war, recounting how the Iranian government sent young soldiers into battle with plastic keys it claimed would open the doors of Heaven.

Satrapi is also thankfully critical of her own actions and frequently includes incidents when she might not have been as courageous or mature as she could have been.

For example, she pokes fun at her short-sightedness during her relationship with an Austrian boyfriend. When she’s under his spell, she depicts him as a promising writer and a handsome gentleman. When the relationship collapses, Satrapi and Paronnaud present him as a grotesque caricature with abhorrently selfish tendencies. This change of heart is hysterically funny.

Satrapi now lives in France, and the Iranian government isn’t happy with her books or the film she and Paronnaud have made. A regime-connected group sent an angry letter to the French embassy in Tehran condemning the film as unrealistic depiction of life in contemporary Iran before it had even opened at Cannes last year.

That’s an ironic complaint about a cartoon, and ‘Persepolis’ ably explains that there is much more to Iranian history and culture than the stereotypes in western media. Apparently, people all over the globe can get out of their funks by belting out the Survivor tune “Eye of the Tiger.”

If subtitles bother you, there is an English version of the film coming out with Gena Rowlands and Sean Penn taking over the voice work. However you choose to watch the film, it’s definitely worth catching because it’s more entertaining and illuminating than most of the coverage we’ve seen of Iran.

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originally posted: 02/01/08 12:21:30
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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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