Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Solid Humanism - with a comic twist

This film made me happy.

It's colorfully animated,
whimsically told,
creatively adapted from the graphic novel genre,
and it appears geared toward the humane, and less toward the political.
which I appreciate.

I also liked that it was a memoir of an Iranian woman, narrated in French.
It isn't easy being brave. But this movie pulls it off with panache.
Some, while fair in other ways (saying it translates well
into film the hand-drawn comic-book look), unfairly say the movie's protagonist is vain. Maybe that is true. But one must admit she is telling her personal story and trying to be authentic, so it's gonna sound a little bit vain. That'd only be natural. I think a little graciousness is in order.
If you were telling your life story, how would you tell it? Would you try to be fair? or would you slant it one way?
Exactly: If we're honest, life is very often grey.
And that is what this movie seeks to show: That just when we think we know who the enemy is, we're often turned over on our heads and left confused. which is another reason I liked it.

Marjane Satrapi weaves an untold story about coming of age in late-twentieth-century Iran, a place not too many Americans understand (including myself), a place perhaps misunderstanding itself.

The way Satrapi tells it, Iran appears relatable. Once upon a time (sometime after World War 2) there was a chance for Iran to become a republic. But the British (and the American) leaders suggested the Shah become a dictator instead, because it'd be an easier way to rule the illiterate. The only way to unite people is through "religion" and fear (of outsiders). All that the British wanted in return: Oil. The situation was difficult, but the Shah did modernize Iran.

Later, there was a revolution, in an attempt to oust the (at the time) American-supported shah. But then Iraq invaded Iran, and weapons were supplied to both sides, and loads of people were killed. What's more, the reigning government in Iran used the war as an excuse to be more strict about religious regulations and about loyalty to the cause.

At this point in the film, Iran looks like some sort of Jewish ghetto in a Nazi-run Germany - miserable. ... It also reminded me of The Handmaid's Tale, if any of you have ever read that.

Communists in the film don't look like bad guys. They look normal, though somewhat idealistic. Marji's uncle Anoush is a Communist. He dies with stoic bravery, executed by the ultra-conservative government - only after dancing with Marji and gifting her another swan-bird carved from stale bread.

But neither do Americans (look like the enemies). Not finding herself fitting in well with Iranian culture and education, Marji wears punk-style sneakers and a t-shirt, and she listens to a black-market album of Iron Maiden. That was really interesting, and kinda cool.
Later, Marji goes to Vienna, makes friends with some nihilists, has a few failed romances, and is homeless a short time. Then, like the Prodigal (Son), she returns home - a changed woman.
Throughout the movie, there was this feeling, the real sadness of this story wouldn't be able to be told with such brilliance if it weren't for the carefully whimsical animation. That animation and the fairy-tale style of story-telling combine to make the hard realities easier to swallow. I appreciated that.
One other thing: Marji gets married at 21, pursues higher education, likes going to parties, has trouble fitting together what she's come to believe from experience and what she's told to believe - she's her own woman - and she gets a divorce. Then, at 24, she moves to France, and the movie ends where it began, in an airport.     That sort of story happens all the time in the U.S. Apparently, it happens elsewhere too.
... Hmmm.
When Persepolis first came out in 2007, it got into the Cannes Film Festival. An organization associated with the Iranian government protested. Satrapi re-emphasized that she values free speech, which meant she was open to criticism, but that the film was not meant to be political. It was meant to be humane. Persepolis lost out to Ratatouille at the Oscar's in 2008. But those of you up on these sorts of things probably know all that already. ... It's just interesting to me how it happens.
And I like that the movie sometimes seems like a fulfillment of Satrapi's childhood dream to one day become a prophet - Satrapi's Persepolis brings people together and helps them understand themselves and each other better. A very human thing to do.


  1. i have always wanted to see this, does it come in English?

  2. It comes with very readable English subtitles, if that helps.