Persepolis: the movie
Being a man of leisure at the moment (read: unemployed) I decided to catch a weekday showing so as to avoid any long lineups, because someone with nowhere to be hates nothing more than wasting time standing in a line. The first showing was Monday morning at ten, which sounded like a good idea until my alarm went off. I debated whether trading my bed for a drive into the city during rush hour to see an adaptation of a comic I only sort of liked was worth it, but I got myself up anyways. The deciding factor (no joke) was that Vancouver city workers are on strike right now so I can park for free and not get ticketed. People who know me will attest that I hate those parking fascists worse than anything.
I’m glad I did go, and not just because I got to stick it to the man. The movie is excellent. Like her graphic novels, the film depicts Satrapi’s childhood in late 70s/ early 80s Iran, her teenage years in Vienna, and her return to Tehran as an adult. The story offers an insider’s look into life in Iran during a time of tumultuous social change, and couples that with Satrapi’s search for personal identity as an adolescent. Her liberal, Western ideas put her in danger in the regressive conservatism of post-Revolutionary Iran, but her ethnic origins and distance from her family make her just as much of an outsider in Austria.
I generally dislike adaptations, and particularly direct adaptations, but the movie connected with me in a way the comics didn’t. The lead character, Marji, and the people around her are layered, human, and relatable. As in the comics, the standout character is Marji’s grandmother, who is both blunt and funny. The humour in the story comes across better in the film than in the comics, and I had several moments where I laughed out loud. At times I thought the movie was too "cute" or over the top, as in the “Eye of the Tiger” scene, but the audience around me loved it all.
The music used in movie added a dimension the comics couldn’t. From the “Eye of the Tiger” to Iggy Pop, music plays an important part in Marji’s rebellion and self-definition. One scene in the movie, where she dances at a punk concert, had the most believably animated dancing I think I’ve seen in a cartoon.
Going into the movie, I was curious about how the animation would look. The comic has a very two-dimensional look to it, with bold lines and lots of flat blacks, and I didn’t know how well that would translate into motion. The filmmakers do an excellent job, though, with a style that both tells the story clearly and is beautiful in places. The characters and their environments are simplified and graphic, even abstract sometimes. Some of the animation reminded me of older French cartoons, or the heavily stylized animation of the early 1950s, and some scenes were like nothing I’d seen before. The backgrounds used in the movie stayed with me for days afterwards, and the silhouette and smoke effects were done particularly well.
The movie is a little over an hour and a half long, but it felt much longer because of how much ground it covers. I mean that in a good way. I thought it was excellent and the crowd around me liked it even more than I did. It opens this Christmas in limited release, so if you see it playing near you, rush out and see it.