January 19, 2008

REVIEW: Persepolis (B+)

Background: Marjane Satrapi's highly anticipated, animated adaptation of her autobiographical graphic novel has arrived with Persepolis. I haven't read her book, but I have seen some op-ed comics she has written for the NYT, and her drawings have a very unique look to them. Voiced by important French film stars that I've never heard of, Persepolis was a winner of a Jury Prize at Cannes, and France's submission to the 2008 Oscars. Stunningly, it didn't even make the short list.

Synopsis: In colored animation, we meet Marjane as an adult (presumably in present day), where she is at an airport remembering days gone by in pre-and post-revolutionary Iran. These flashbacks, in black and white animation, make up almost the entire film. We see her as a precocious, curious little girl who doesn't fully understand the magnitude of the events surrounding her (including her parents' participation in the revolution); a rebellious teen who develops a love for Iron Maiden; and a fiery young woman who suffers heartbreak and identity episodes as she attends school in Vienna and Tehran, where she returns in the early 90's.

I Loved:
+ The animation. It was almost as if I'd never seen anything like it before, so familiar have I become with Pixar-style productions.

I Liked:
+ The emotional range of the story - it had a good balance of comedy, drama, tragedy, etc., without getting too bogged down.

I Disliked:
- The feeling that I didn't really get to know who Marjane is. It was ironically almost not personal enough. Maybe I needed some more present day context to see who she has become since then.

I Hated:
- The giggling gaggle of girls surrounding us in the theater and acting as if they were watching Saturday morning cartoons. And the smoochy kissy couple in front of us. Sigh.

Writing - 8
Acting - N/A
Production - 10
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 4
Significance - 5

Total: 35/40= 88% = B+

Last Word: When talking about Persepolis, the discussion will either focus on the politics or the animation. I don't know enough about the first to judge the film's motives or its historical accuracy, but I can say with some authority that the animation is revolutionary in its own right. The absence of color is not just an artistic touch, but the symbolic lens through which Marjane remembers her life in Tehran - black, white, and lots of gray. The two-dimensional style of the animation is nostalgic, simple, and lovely to watch. I don't think Persepolis would have been nearly as good in live action, or even in color. Production aside, Marjane's story is really interesting, though not enough to keep me from wondering about what else was happening in Iran. Her romantic escapades don't add much to the story, though fortunately they're blown through pretty quickly. But I guess a lot of her life was, and maybe that's the problem. Tell someone's life story in 95 minutes and that's bound to happen.
I never really got hooked into her character, but that may have been a result of the yahoos around me in the theater. Nevertheless, I did get a unique glimpse into Tehran during the revolution and fall of the Shah, and that's enough to recommend seeing Persepolis.


  1. I can't wait to see this one. Looks fantastic.

    I love how in America, the rating system is so different. 88% here is an A. Anything over 90 is an A+. Different strokes…

  2. Interesting observation, Nick, about the grading. Wonder what it says about our cultures, if anything...

  3. It sounds like we're on the same page with Persepolis. I saw it a long time ago and kind of kept a draft of the review kicking around but was never inspired to finish it. It was a good enough movie that deserved better than a crappy review, but I had a hard time summoning up the energy to write one.

    I think the movie might have more appeal to women and girls, especially of a certain age. I'm just not the target audience for it so it didn't move me the way it might have.

    Loved loved loved the animation though.

  4. Yeah my review didn't fly out of my head, either. I had a hard time thinking about and reconciling all of its aspects. Definitely agree with you about the animation. Hope to see you more like it in the future...

  5. I have no idea what it says about our cultures, but it sure makes me look like a fool who has a hard time being a critic, when I give so may "A" ratings. But it's all good.

  6. That might say more about the fact that you only see quality films, not that you just give high grades. ;-)


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