I actually have an agenda with this analysis! I've always wanted to teach Persepolis, the graphic novel, in my Catholic school. The thing is, I can't deny that there's some questionable material in the book and the movie. The movie deals with Marjane's sexuality, drinking, smoking, and mild drug use. These are the central ideas behind the movie, but they do ground the issues of the Iranian Revolution with these very real problems that a teenager deals with. There's also some language and animated violence. It's PG-13, but I can see some people seeing this through an R-Rated lens.
DIRECTORS: Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi
I think that Marjane Satrapi gets directorial credit in the same way that Frank Miller got credit for Sin City. When a movie is a direct adaptation of the graphic novel (or as close can be approximated), many of the panels of the graphic novel are used as storyboards for the final result. But I don't know this for sure. I do know that this feels like a very close adaptation to the book and that's pretty impressive in itself. Before I go further, I do feel like I have to make a confession. Both the book and the movie do a fabulous job teaching about the history about the Iranian Revolution. I know way more about the Iranian Revolution than I did before I read this the first time and I probably know way more about it than those who haven't personally experienced it or read the book. That being said, I feel wildly unqualified to give the details about the Revolution. I still don't get major parts of it and I've read this book multiple times and own the movie. This is all on the table and it probably should color my review of the film as a whole. Basically, I'm not always a big smarty pants about everything. Although if you did think that prior to this review, I can live with that opinion of me.
I keep coming back to this book. Admittedly, Persepolis is one of the more important graphic novels of our age. It's on a bunch of book lists and many schools teach it. (Again, not mine and I don't know how it would go over.) No one ever forces me to read it, but I do find excuses to read it every so often. This is a bigger testament to the book than it sounds because I almost never re-read things I don't have to. I have too much on my pile that will go untouched when I die because there is just too much content out there to absorb. I've only seen the movie once before though. This movie is oddly enough, so darned true to the book but kind of feels like its own thing. Satrapi made Persepolis, the graphic novel in a style that almost ignores juxtaposition at times. There are entire theories about how the juxtaposition between panels affects storytelling. Satrapi's storytelling almost is a series of related vignettes that are in chronological order, but when discussing these moments in terms of film, they rarely cut on action. Rather, our brains fill in a lot of information between panels. As such, it maintains this simple aesthetic throughout the piece. It works really well. The movie, by the very nature of movement, somehow becomes more complex. The narrative has to be fluid and paced, something that the graphic novel really never had to worry about. I don't think that the film version of Persepolis is complex. But I do think that the directors had to look at the art style to maintain the vision of the original work. The art style is what really sticks out to me as the signature of Persepolis on the film. (I'm really pretentious right now.) When a team of artists adapts still models into fluid action, there are choices that have to be made. If you showed me a panel of the book and a frame of the movie, I should be able to tell which came from where. But the art style is the best interpretation of Satrapi's art from the book. You can tell that this is Persepolis, but it somehow just seems more alive. It sells me really quickly. At the beginning of the film, Satrapi is a child and it takes a childlike perspective on very complex matters. But the movement of young Satrapi moves her from general impetuosity to more of a complex rapscallion. Honestly, I always thought of Satrapi from the graphic novel as aggressive and kind of a brat at times. I find the animated detailed version of the character still to be misbehaved, but in a charming way. Perhaps when she is chasing down a child on a bike with nails to kill him, that's a bit much. But I have a far easier time forgiving her for stuff like that than I do with the still image.
This art style really plays up to the dreamlike qualities that the book presents. Often in the story, Satrapi presents many of her dreams. Or memories take on dreamlike elements. It is in the movement that defines the tone. I'm really glad that the filmmakers decided to do some cool stuff that takes advantage of the animated format. There are two related scenes when Satrapi falls in love in Austria. It is Satrapi falling in love and Satrapi falling out of love. The narrative tells the story pretty well even without the visuals to support them. But the filmmakers made cars float. They made boogers dangle. The environment of Austria changed and melded to match Satrapi's emotions and its so effective. I mean, the directors knew that it was effective. The flying car is probably the most impressive image from the trailer. It's stuff like this that makes Persepolis a joy to watch. It's weird that Persepolis is a glorious watch. It's a real bummer of a story. Marjane Satrapi does not paint herself in a very pleasant light and the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution is constantly tragic. But through visual storytelling, there is a punk rock quality to the whole thing. Listen, I'm as straight-edge as they come. I'm so straight-edge, there's nothing even rebellious about it. I will always think that a good time is a Coca-Cola with a pizza, not lots of beer. I listen to film soundtracks when I write reviews on my film blog. I have three children and I teach in a Catholic school. There's nothing at all rebellious about me. I would loathe knowing Marjane in real life, but her story is so cool. Marjane Satrapi's memoirs are the equivalent of reading The Catcher in the Rye for me. It's Easy Rider. She is just the right level of counter-culture that I get really excited. Again, I would never want to do anything like what she's doing. But the fact that she is wearing a misspelled "Punk is not Ded" [sic] jean jacket in the middle of conservative extremism Iran is fascinating. Satrapi also doesn't really like this version of her. She's constantly pointing out her own foibles throughout the story. Her grandmother is her voice of her conscience. The thing is, her grandmother is great...for a lot of it. She waxes poetic on how awesome divorce is and I can't really get behind that. But she inspires Satrapi while holding her to task. It's so interesting to think that the story ends when Satrapi is 21. She goes through so much throughout the story. Few of these are accomplishments, but the inspiration in this movie is survival. She survives an oppressive government. She survives homelessness and being without her family. Marjane (I hate referring to the author as "Marjane", but she is the character as well as the author and that makes the relationship something different.) makes mistakes. Some of these mistakes I would avoid. Some I wouldn't be able to. But this is her tale, warts and all.
The narrative is spurned forward by a sense of regret. But she is often unapologetic for our mistakes. There is one mistake that almost feels confessional in the story. It is far more honest than I could ever be on screen and I applaud Satrapi for putting it in the story unbroken. I don't know if her grandmother vocalized her frustration with Marjane in the same way it is presented here, but it is extraordinarily effective. Satrapi also discusses her own battles with depression. I actually don't know if she is formally depressed. She paints her doctor as a bit of a quack who kind of ruined her life with prescription medication. But it is interesting to see how depression kind of paints everyday interactions. I return back to the idea that Persepolis feels more like real life than other memoirs that I've read. As large in scope as the setting is, the story is fairly mundane. It is the tale of adolescence and the frustrations with not really understanding how the world works. A teenage girl, regardless of cultural background, can easily find herself lost, especially when alone and working with poorly treated depression. She is not a hero, but she is definitely the hero of her own story. I love the fact that she talks to God. (Maybe not so much to Karl Marx, but if you read the book, there's a bit more that ties those two together.) I don't think that Persepolis is fundamentally a story about faith. But faith kind of colors the whole thing. The movie can't not deal with the problems of religion versus faith. I'm a huge proponent of religion, but I can also see why people turn away from it. Satrapi has this wonderful relationship with God, despite all the trials it endures. She starts the story as wanting to be a prophet and breaks her relationship with God when undergoing trials. It is definitely a background element, but I also appreciate that my faith often parallels Satrapi's.
I really want to teach this book, but I can see it going poorly. This film is such a wonderful companion piece to the graphic novel and I applaud it for all of its success. If I had to be nitpicky, the soundtrack is pretty garbage. It sounds cheap compared to the rest of the production, but that is something that could pretty easily ignored. I love this movie and I'll probably revisit it...you know. Once I have a second to rewatch something. (Who am I kidding? I'm the author of my own stress.)
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.