Friday, February 15, 2008

Review: Persepolis


Marjane Satrapi's graphic novels Persepolis and Persepolis 2 are among my favorite works ever produced in that medium. Now they have been adapted into a film, Satrapi and Vincent Parronnaud's Persepolis, which I can safely say is one of my favorite films of this year.

First and foremost, Satrapi's illustrations practically glow on-screen. The product of the French graphic novel enclave L'Association, Satrapi embraced the pure black-and-white (no greyscale) method of illustrating championed by L'Association's founder, David B. But whereas David B's illustrations are sinuous and elaborate constructions, Satrapi adopted a simpler and more iconic approach, one with more geometric figures than snaking lines. When transferred to the big screen, what previously appeared to be simple and iconic has become lush and captivating. American film audiences seem to have little sympathy for traditional animation in the 21st century, but surely it's because we we've never seen figures so striking as this. Whether the film is showing us the violence of war or the beauty of jasmine flowers, the images are indelible, simultaneously stark and beautiful.

Like the graphic novels, Persepolis is Satrapi's memoir of growing up as a young girl during the Iranian revolution, spending someunhappy time free from the regime's oppression in Europe, and returning to Iran as a young woman. The graphic novels told this story in a series of vignettes, only loosely advancing a larger plot, and the film adopts this method, except it covers even less of the material, and thus connects the dots even more loosely. The movie thus plays out as a gentle, unstrenuous journey throughout various points of Satrapi's life. Some of the vignettes last for a good chunk of time; some of them seem less than a minute long. Combined, they paint a picture of a young girl struggling to find herself in relation to a country that has lost itself. Friends and family come and go, some of them permanently at the hand of the regime, as Marjane tries to navigate the road into a adulthood.

Persepolis is not a plot-driven film, and thus even its 95 minutes could feel long if you're looking for something driving the action. But sit back, relax, and lose yourself in each individual vignette, and you'll find it to be one of the most rewarding films of the year - and possibly the best looking.

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