Persepolis is here

Alicia sent out the following WaPo review of Persepolis this morning. I can’t wait to see it. I even added an alarm in my calendar to make sure I didn’t miss it on the big screen. Sometimes that happens, you know. We saw a preview when we went to see Juno and I immediately teared up. I can’t decide if the preview was that moving or if the book subconsciously reminds me of an emotional time in my life. Regardless, I am really excited. Just in case you need a little more arm twisting because you aren’t crazy about animated films…

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‘Persepolis’: A Stranger in Her Own Land
Film Deftly Animates Cultural Conflict in Iran

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 25, 2008; C05

To the world’s ever-growing list of things it can’t be much fun to be,
add “Iranian secular liberal.”

That’s the bitter gist of “Persepolis,” a memoir in an unusual format of
one such person, who exiled herself to Paris, festering with memories
and resentment of the fact that she was against the shah, too!

The unusual format in Marjane Satrapi’s film is not that it’s in
black-and-white (though it is), not that it’s based on a graphic novel
(it is), but that it’s animated. Satrapi, with co-director Vincent
Paronnaud, has taken Satrapi’s work and turned it into a vigorous,
revealing and tragic film.

Satrapi grew up among the intelligentsia, in the city of Tehran. Her
upbringing, religious differences aside, can’t be that far from a young
woman of the same age on the West Side of Manhattan, among ironists and
intellectuals, among gossip, love affairs, scandalous (but highly
entertaining) behavior. She bonded quickly enough to international youth
culture, becoming a Bruce Lee fan by way of becoming a punk and then
goth rock fan. Politically progressive — she even had an uncle who was
a communist — she and her parents understood the tyranny of the shah
(her well-born father worked for the government) and they ached in their
hearts for revolution. It came. It ate them up.

“Persepolis” (the name is that of the ancient capital of the Persian
Empire) is therefore a personal document, but also a political one; and
it’s an artistic one as well. Busy, busy, busy.

Satrapi’s pencil is an exceedingly deft instrument. With simple strokes
and not a lot of frills or fashion, it calls up a world, the
cosmopolitan old world of the intellectual-academic-bureaucratic classes
in Tehran, moneyed, sophisticated, educated, ironic, largely
westernized. Though when she is a child, Satrapi’s politics are
infantile, what is remarkable is that she even has politics; but as
politics are everywhere at that time and place, it is somewhat
inescapable.

Her mother, more sophisticated (the voice is Catherine Deneuve’s) and
stable, is always cautious; meanwhile her grandmother (Danielle
Darrieux) is probably the wild one, from whom Satrapi gets her sense of
outrageousness. The film pretty much stays with these three women over
the upheavals of recent Iranian history, including the revolution that
overthrew the shah, the coming of the mullahs (they were for, then
against) and the war with Iraq (they were for, then against).

It’s one of those things where nothing happens but everything happens.
Neighbor boys die in the killing fields of the war, the city undergoes
nightly bombing attacks, but what Satrapi notices is that she has
trouble getting Western bootleg tapes, because the theocracy is cracking
down. She hated the shah, but these new “guardians” are even worse; the
shah let the literati be the literati, but the mullahs want them on
their knees six times a day. The shah imprisoned her radical uncle; the
mullahs execute him. She hates the veil, now mandatory.

At 14, Satrapi’s parents send her to school in Vienna. Though she has
been educated in French schools in Tehran, she certainly doesn’t feel
happy in the West. Alone in Vienna, after growing up (a very funny
sequence highlights the awkwardness of the changing adolescent form) she
suffers romantic failures, loses her ability to cope and ends up
homeless and near death. But returning to Tehran, now a young woman, she
feels hopelessly westernized. She’s an emblem of cultural confusion:
She’s from nowhere, and she’s going nowhere.

With her effortless pen, Satrapi evoked that world and that pain;
working with Paronnaud, she has managed to deftly transfer it to
movement, without going off into the realm of CGI. This is good old cel
animation, where things are simply drawn and immensely suggestive; the
“guardians,” in their black robes, bend in upon poor Marjane like giant,
menacing parentheses, meaning to control and diminish her. They are jet
black — that stands for their absolutism — in a world otherwise shades
of gray. It’s a terrifying image, and the movie, while no fun, faces
hard truths and asks hard questions.

Persepolis (95 minutes, at Landmark’s E Street and Bethesda Row and the
AMC Shirlington) is rated PG-13 for mature content including violent
images, sexual references, profanity and brief drug content. In French,
German and Farsi with English subtitles.

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