December 28, 2007

MOVIES: Persepolis (Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi, 2007)

Animated adaptation of Satrapi's series of graphic novel memoirs about growing up in Iran in the late 70s and early 80s. This is France's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, and will almost certainly be one of the nominees; it's also a likely nominee in the Best Animated Film category, and could well win both.

With the exception of a few short framing scenes, the animation is entirely in black and white; the style is a wild mix of Herge's Tintin, Peter Max, Japanese woodprints, and the 1950s animation work of the UPA studio. It's visually stunning, and gorgeous to watch.

The movie begins with the overthrow of the Shah and the rise of the Islamic Republic; 8-year-old Marjane begins to develop an awareness of politics when her father gently informs her that the Shah was not, in fact, selected by God. By her teen years, her parents are worried that their rebellious daughter will get into trouble, so they send her off to school in Vienna. She returns to Iran as a young adult, only to find that she cannot adapt to so repressive a culture.

The voice work is fine, particularly from the three central women -- Chiara Mastroianni as the teen/adult Marjane, Catherine Deneuve as her mother (she is also Mastroianni's real-life mother), and Danielle Darrieux as her grandmother. The latter is the movie's most memorable character, a tough old broad with more smarts and common sense than her culture would approve of.

As bleak a period of history as this was, the movie's not without humor. There's a marvelous sequence in which we get two views of one of Marjane's boyfriends, first through her love-besotted eyes, second after she catches him with another woman; the transformation is hilarious.

A minor frustration is that the movie is in black and white, with white subtitles; if there were ever a movie that cried out for yellow titles (or any other color, really), this is it. But that shouldn't keep you from seeing the movie, which is a fine achievement.

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