Friday, March 7, 2008

Movie Review: Persepolis

The Academy made a mistake when it awarded the "Best Animated Film" Oscar to Ratatouille. While Pixar's film about a Parisian rat with an enthusiasm for fine dining is charming enough, it is simply a children's cartoon. The film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, however, is art.

Persepolis is author and animator Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical account of her girlhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, of her exile to Austria, and of her return to an Iran which proves to be as foreign to her as the European society she has just left. Yet, those who have read the books and already know the story well will not be bored. There is new material in the movie adaptation, and the story and images borrowed from the books are so beautifully rendered on film that they strike with a new impact. The narrative is funny, compelling, and occasionally devastating - I sobbed as I watched young Marjane turning back for a last glance of her parents before boarding the plane to Austria. Most importantly, the narrative is humanizing, as we identify so intimately with a girl whose society seems so different from our own.

The one criticism of Persepolis I've heard was voiced by my friend Stephan, who complained that too much time was dedicated to Marjane's time in Austria- where she falls in love, smokes her first joint, and has her heart broken. "Everyone I know has done those things," he complained, "so more time should have been spent describing life in Iran, which is more interesting." As much as I respect Stephan, his criticism is misplaced. It is by focusing on the details that have actually been important in Satrapi's life, things with which most human beings can relate, rather than ignoring all elements that will fail to strike a western audience as exotic, that Persepolis avoids falling back on the voyeuristic appeal of orientalism and manages to create a sense of what life is like for everyday people living in a society in crisis.

Persepolis is one of those rare films that expands its audience's humanity. It is a film that will increase your knowledge of the world, and your compassion for the other beings in it. If Persepolis is showing in your town, you should see it. If not, watch the trailer read the books until the film comes to a DVD player near you.

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