Thursday, 9 March 2017

World Cinema - "Persepolis" (2007) - A review.

Fig 1.

"Persepolis" (2007) dir. Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud, is a French/Iranian animated feature film based on the graphic novel of the same name, which in turn is based on Satrapi's own experiences of growing up against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. It was a nominee for Best Animated Feature at the Academy awards, as well as a slew of other awards, including the Palme D'or. Satrapi's other works include "Chicken with Plums" (2011) - which again, was based on another of Satrapi's graphic novels - & "The Voices" (2014) which stylistically is the furthest departure from her earlier work. Peter Bradshaw, comments that "here is an adaptation so inspired, so simple and so frictionless in its transformation of the source material that it's almost a miracle. When I tell people it's a lo-fi animation, largely in black-and-white, about Iran they put their heads in their hands and make a low groaning sound. But I've seen those same people bounce happily out of the cinema after seeing it as if they had had some sort of caffeine injection." (Bradshaw, 2008) and in truth, there's no point at which the film belies its origins on paper, though counter to that, there's never a moment where Persepolis feels flat. 

Fig 2.
Roger Ebert notes that "the style is deliberately two-dimensional, avoiding the illusion of depth in current animation. This approach may sound spartan, but it is surprisingly involving, wrapping us in this autobiography that distills an epoch into a young women's life." (Ebert, 2008) It's by and large, because of the film's insistence to stick with the aesthetic laid out by Satrapi's graphic novel, that allows such an expressive piece to exist at all. In terms of sheer complexity, it was clear that the piece needed to adopt a far more abstract and frugal approach to animation, Marc Jousset, art designer for Persepolis mentions that "We had to develop a specific style, both realistic and mature. No bluffing, no tricks, nothing overcooked. With animation director Christian Desmares, twenty animators worked on the movie." (Jousset, 2007) and it is within this economy that creative decisions led to some extremely captivating answers to problems arising from having to fill in the gaps between the panels of the graphic novel.

"Persepolis" opens with Marjane in an airport, beginning to reminisce about her past, leading us centers on a young Marjane a regales us with her story; a coming of age tale set amidst the precarious backdrop of the Iranian Revolution, the Shah is being usurped, and the country is about to enter, what everyone believes, will be a time for democracy to prosper. The opposite is true, and Iran is plunged into uncertainty, and a constrictive regime that oppresses rather than uplifts. Marjane, "is nine years old when the waves of revolution rise to engulf the country. Waves that send her parents to the demonstrations" (Bazr, 2007) and it is within this uncertainty that drive Marjane and her growth. Although clearly being in a position of privilege amongst the other characters in this tale, she nonetheless serves as the focal point for which to witness these events. "She is from an intellectual family with a comfortable existence. But Persepolis is able to portray a universal reality (the history of a country) through the narrative of a particular and uncommon life. The history that is part of Marjane’s family heritage and shapes her life is part of the collective heritage that shapes the existence, hopes and dreams of all of us" (Bazr, 2007) in this way, much as the same as with "Waltz with Bashir" (2008) a personal story is transformed into a universal one, and in Persepolis's case, one that highlights the plight of women in particular, as the film is wise enough to highlight the difference in attitudes between Iran and Vienna, culminating in "Marjane’s conflict with various representatives of the regime in the context of continuous repression" that causes "her parents to send her abroad" (Bazr, 2007). This goes a long way into quantifying what make Persepolis an Iranian film, certainly it's focus is Iran, it's subjects Iranian, and yet, the film has been banned by religious leaders in Iran. Perhaps then, Persepolis is uniquely Iranian in so much as being able to attack it's own establishment, whilst also allowing Marjane a crucible in which to pool the events of her life into, and make sense of them.

Fig 3.
Why then, does it appear that the film appeals to a Western palate? Could it be that this is perhaps a deliberate choice on Marjane's part in order to further criticise Iran? It seems likely. With reference to the graphic novel "One of the most important underlying themes of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis is the censorship of artistic expression in Iran under the fundamentalist Islamic regime that took over power of the country after the 1979 Revolution. Satrapi’s novel is itself a product of, and reaction to, this censorship" (Davis, Wang. 2010) So in a sense, the existence of Persepolis as a property at least, is an affront itself, and in the very best way. For it is from that self flagellating critique, a critique of someone who is at least qualified to levy such criticisms that makes this filmic endeavor what it is, a triumph for animation, right from a comic strip.


Bradshaw, Pete. (2008) At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/apr/25/animation.drama (Accessed on 09/03/17)

Bazr. (2007) At: http://revcom.us/a/109/awtw-persepolis-en.html (Accessed on 09/03/17)

Davis, Lane. Wang, Bella ed. "Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood Repression and Expression in Iranian Art" (2010) At: http://www.gradesaver.com/persepolis-the-story-of-a-childhood/study-guide/repression-and-expression-in-iranian-art (Accessed on 09/03/17)

Ebert, R. (2008) At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/persepolis-2008 (Accessed on 09/03/17)

Fig 1. Persepolis Poster. [image] At: https://i.paigeeworld.com/user-media/1422576000000/5373607ff3192bf878276785_54cadd389993972a69242a46_320.jpg (Accessed 09/03/17)

Fig 2. Marjane-(s). [image] At http://www.jsbc.fr/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/persepolis-8-1064x596.jpg (Accessed 09/03/17)

Fig 3. "Punk is not Ded". [image] At: http://theredlist.com/media/database/films/cinema/2000/persepolis/010-persepolis-theredlist.jpg (Accessed 09/03/17)

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