Sunday, December 30, 2007

Movies: Persepolis

I had been quite excited about this animated feature when I saw the trailer, but alas, it seems the trailer is all one needed to see. The film itself turned out to be just as choppy and episodic, only longer, with the highlights all dispersed between the feminine emotional drudgery I so loathe (which loathing has led me to consider myself one of the first female misogynists out there).

The story is the autobiographical one of artist and writer (oh, pardon, graphic novelist) Marjane Satrapi, who grew up in Tehran and witnessed, as a precocious child, the fall of the Shah's regime, and the replacement of it by the more militant religionists we see there today. Satrapi's family, though connected by blood to the Shah, was rather leftist, and her film shows her relatives and friends being taken as political prisoners, jailed and sometimes executed. For her own safety, her parents sent her to Europe as an adolescent, and she grew up basically on her own in Germany and France.

The beginning half of the film, which describes Satrapi's childhood in Tehran, is rather lovely--poignant and witty--but just as teenagers are generally less pleasant than kindergartners, the remainder of the film, during which our heroine suffers from the depression brought on by a number of failed love affairs, drags quite a bit. Satrapi introduces color in the scenes that take place in the "present," where she sits in a French airport, recollecting her past, which we see in black and white flashback. The memories are strung together like the (for me, terribly unfulfilling) pages of a comic book (excuse me, graphic novel), which, by their textual limitations, can only delve so deep.

Most confusing, for me, is Satrapi's choice to film the dialogue in French, rather than Farsi. She did attend a French academy growing up, and perhaps her family spoke French in the home (they certainly do in the movie, but then again, so does everyone else), but in showing a French-speaking household, in a film in which all the characters are homogeneous shadow drawings, to an extent ethnicity-free, Satrapi misleads her audience, which might wonder whether her family were expatriates, working for some reason in Iran (which would be a fair explanation for their unusually progressive values). This is clarified later, when her grandmother describes their blood connection to the Shah, but for a time, I found myself rather uncertain.

Ultimately, I cannot say that this film sheds any new or different light on the current Western perspective on Iran or its Muslim regime; a short sequence in which Satrapi's father explains to the child Marjane England's role in the Shah's rise to power, and later the West's further role in feeding arms to both sides in the civil war, in very clear and simple terms clarified some recent history about which I was previously a bit cloudy (having been an even younger child when all of this was happening, with parents equally progressive, but far less politically inclined), and for that I am grateful. But the sweetness of seeing the adolescent Marjane rocking out to a bootleg cassette of Iron Maiden, or changing, in 20/20 hindsight, her rendering of a lover who jilted her, come from feeling a bond of sameness with Satrapi, rather than an introduction to something different. I've gained no real insight into anything other than (blech) femininity by watching this film, whereas I expected to come away with a deeper understanding of something more foreign.

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