04 October, 2008

Punk is not ded

So here's the thing.

If there was one festival film that I was looking forward to above all others, it was Persepolis (see the not-very-good trailer here). I'd first heard about the film in the lead-up to the Oscars, where everyone I read seemed to agree that, while Ratatouelle would win the Best Animated Feature award, there was another animated film, Persepolis, that was even better.

And having seen the film, everyone was right. And this is not a slight on Ratatouelle, which was a brilliant film, another extraordinary Pixar film, and one I look forward to rewatching many many times. But Persepolis was the better film.

Marjane Satrapi was born in Iran in 1969 during the reign of the Shah. Ten years later, the Shah was displaced, and the country becomes an Islamic Republic under the Ayatollah. The young Satrapi found herself in an increasingly restrictive society, where she became increasingly aware and outspoken about the injustices she sees. (She was also keenly aware of how difficult it is for her to acquire the Western music she adores.) Eventually, as she reached her teenage years, her parents sent her off to school to Austria, where everything happens that you would expect when someone used to somewhere like Iran suddenly finds themselves in a more free and liberal Europe. She eventually fell into depression, she returned to Iran, but her efforts to protest against the atrocities she sees around her eventually caused her to leave the country again. She is banned from ever returning home.

A few years ago, Satrapi decided to write her autobiography. But rather than writing it as a normal book, she wrote it as a graphic novel (a type of comic book). The original book of Persepolis was illustrated in a very simple style, black and white, highly stylised images. When they came to make the film version of Persepolis, they wisely chose to retain that look. It gives the film a unique charm - it doesn't look like some slick project produced by a hundred animators to produce some homogenous product, it feels like one person's self expression come to to life.

As for the film itself, it's everything I had hoped for. Most times, when you see your typical biographical film, they always feel like there's a degree of fictionalisation of the story, just to make it fit into a story template. Persepolis is different. In a lot of ways, it's actually very messy, just because that's the way life is. Satrapi does a great job in honestly capturing her emotional growth, managing to present the astonishing changes in Iran from the naive point of view of a 10-year-old. The middle section of the film, covering her teenage years, is a particularly delightful part of the film, capturing the disorienting, confusion collision of a girl whose values and beliefs don't quite fit with the free and more liberal European world, where her attempts to fit in and adopt this new world ultmately don't work out. Ultmately, there's nothing especially great or momentous about Satrapi's story, she just grows up to be an ordinary person eading a normal life. The film is simply a coming-of-age story, about a girl discovering who she is, and how she relates to a country undergoing massive upheaval and change, a country that increasingly fails to reflect her own values. But the film is complex, involving, and honest. It's an extraordinary film, and one look forward to revisiting.

No comments: