reviewed by Andrew James
Persepolis tells the tale of one young girl's struggle to fit in and survive through the wars, revolutions and fascist regimes that plagued her country of Iran throughout her lifetime. Starting as just a child, the film spans two decades of Marjane's life as she struggles to cope with all of the difficulties that come with adolescence, the teenage years and early adulthood; coupled with the strife of her nation.
First and foremost is the unique brand of animation we get here. Based on the work from the original graphic novel, the style is nearly identical and works wonders. While sort of reminiscent of early B&W cartoon shorts of the 1920s and 30s, the style isn't anything really new, but compared to the overly realistic CGI that Hollywood has rammed down our throats for the past 10-15 years, this is a welcome change.
However, the story itself is the heart of this film. It's filled with every aspect of cinematic storytelling one could hope for. Watching a child try to comprehend the complicated, political world around her rings completely true. Receiving mixed messages from parents and relatives and the social revolutions of friends and neighbors, Marjane becomes a confused little girl, but luckinly surrounded by people that love her and enable her to slowly understand the nature of her surroundings as she grows up and learns from mistake after mistake.
The film brings sadness, action, intensity, several harrowing "near-miss" sequences, terrific drama and strategically placed, uncomfortable humor to the heart of the audience. The humor in particular works extremely well and the writer/director (Marjane herself) is not afraid of taking any chances and goes all out with whatever needs to be done or said to elicit laughter from us.
The characterization could quite possibly be the stand-out of the film. Every actor's voice brings something unique and important to the table; particularly Marjane's grandmother, who is full of vigor, wisdom and humor. Easily one of the best characters of any film this year, period.
Let's not forget the electric score that works so well in adding the extra emotional punch when needed. It's not over-bearing or in your face. But it does give punch when called for; particularly in the darker sequences of war or death when we get some unique, electronic sounds that bring eeeriness to each sequence. Meanwhile we've got 80's pop-culture musical references and genuine film/musical moments when a character breaks out into song. Along with the standard orchestral, dramatic sounding moments, he score here adds to the story ten fold.
My one gripe with the film would be the heavy handedness of the racial stereotypes and the over simplification of political messages and events. Obviously we can't fit all of Iran's political problems of the last 30 years into a 2 hour movie, but I did feel that the movie was trying to give us a message on what we should think or feel based on a two sentence explanation of a decade long war. Still, this really only bothered me for the first half of the film - for two reasons: one, I realized that because the story is basically being told from the perspective of a little girl who might see the world from this simplified perspective. Two, as the film wore on we focussed far more on Marjane and her relationship problems with friends, family, boys and the world at large. This overshadowed any of the previous gripes I had and was completly won over by the end.
Had I seen this picture before the end of the year it may very well have entered the yearly top ten list. A film about struggle, love, humor, pop-culture, war, politics, social injustice and growing up, it truly is a spectacle to behold and the more I think about it, the more and more I'm loving it. This is one of only a small handful of films I'm really looking forward to checking out again theatrically. With the general message being that we must make mistakes to learn from them and continue on stronger, Persepolis is one of the few films of the year to give us everything we should expect from a truly fabulous cinematic experience.
Flixster Profile for Persepolis