Persepolis – Review

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Graphic novels and comic books have been adapted into films predominately since the 90s.

Thing is, you may not have realized the movies you were watching was based on a graphic novel. Sure, The Watchmen and V for Vendetta are based on graphic novels, but slice of life films have also come from the animated page to the silver screen.

Most surprising to some is the movie Ghost World, the indie charmer from 2001, was a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. The Crow, the movie now infamous for killing its main star Brandon Lee, was also a graphic novel. So was Blue is the Warmest ColorRoad to Perdition. A History of Violence.

Basically, any good graphic novel can be created into a motion picture.

It was a surprise, however, to find Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s life story that released in 2004, was optioned for a film release.

It was further surprising that the film was so faithful to the source material. Reading this book way back in 2004, it was a delightfully witty, but earthy read. It’s writing was true to life and its visuals, while monochromatic, had some distinct and lovely detail on the page.

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As a film, Persepolis is a dry, matter-of-fact telling of the author’s, Marjane Satrapi, life from the time she was a pre-teen until the time she was a young adult, all while living in Iran and Vienna. The visual compliment of Satrapi’s blunt way of telling her life strikes an interesting, if not counter-intuitive balance.

Satrapi sets the story up not of one who’s dealt with great angst, but of one who just lived a life. Maybe not of one many can imagine, nor of one we would like to live. Satrapi (who also co-directs the film with Vincent Paronnaud) presents the character, herself, with all of the development of a full fleshed out character.

Not of an overly positive character, as most biographies tend to do, but of an almost tragically flawed romantic who should be scorned as such.

It’s that feeling of honesty and total lack of empathy for the main character that both gives this film an interesting personal twist on a standard bio-pic, while still having this nagging, uneasy feeling in my head that the main character is too much of a punching bag or just portrayed as a put-upon tragic figure.

Rewatching the film only polarizes this choice further: it’s much akin to listening to a self-loathing story teller retelling one of their darkest, most grim moments with an aw-shucks “what an idiot I was!” retort.

It’s an exercise to go through, honestly. Struggles to identify with the character come up as just feeling like she’s supposed to be looked at as something of her own doing. Fleets with happiness are given a dour, almost defensive tone of “Don’t get too comfortable”.

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The main issue with all of this is: the character is likable and easily sympathetic. At no point does it feel like this character deserves the injustice she has been given. The character is easily connectable to the viewer, especially during her younger days with her family.

To be embroiled with an argument with a story maker’s life and her interpretations of such is one of the weirdest types of self-analyzing that I’ve come across.

Why, as the viewer, am I so headstrong in disagreeing with not the director’s choices of style or the way it presents its story, but of the character she created, of which is entirely her?

It brings up a question that is often used when analyzing any piece of art: “is it that person’s art once it’s publicly consumed?”

Meaning: Can the artist definitively say “This was the meaning of this, ergo every other opinion is wrong” when the art itself takes new meanings and shapes when more people consume that art?

My equivocal answer to that question, always and forever, will be “no, the artist cannot say that nor can he claim any meaning of it unless it’s of his own personal meaning.”

Even today, the American Flag (of it, a work of artistic symbolism), means many different things to many different people. The art bends and molds to the times and the people who are touched by it. That is what art is, in a sense.

Is the character of Marjane a sympathetic likable character? To me, she is. She’s engaging, while being flawed, and portrays a sort of authentic feel that few female characters tend to have.

Some of her heartbreak may be of her own doing, but her state of mind and feeling of isolation isn’t of her doing at all.

What the film shows, incredibly well in fact, is the effect that her family has, all while not getting to know much about the family at all. In fact, the only character you get to know is Marjane. This is done through well done animation set-pieces, all showing the harrowing and somehow heartfelt scope of what the family has been through.

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The animation itself, while bland in a way, gives off enough character of Marjane that it does it’s job. The animation didn’t exactly command the film, or give moments of added brevity or depth when needed. It is there, honestly, to be faithful to the book.

This faithfulness to the book is the one thing that could have used some retooling. A movie like Waltz with Bashir can show harrowing with little to no detail. But, to go as bland as they did in Persepolis gives the film a disservice. 

And, yet, there’s a contemporaneous feeling that, as a reviewer, would say that this is the intended vision of the director and she executed that vision she had very well.

Objectively, that is true.

Subjectively, there are questions that, even as I am writing this review, may or may not be answered with multiple viewings (which I will have). Do I not get it because I’m not a woman? Iranian? Had a different upbringing?

Maybe, but one thing that Persepolis does is make me wish I knew more about the character, of which is a creation of a real person, of which is the writer and director of this movie.

There are very few movie characters that I connect with. I can empathize with them, but maybe not connect.

This character, Marjane Satrapi, is someone that feels like there’s a deeper connection, or an understanding of which I’ve never felt with a character. And it’s dead set against the wishes of it’s creator.

How intimately powerful, yet incredibly perplexing, is this conundrum?

How intimately powerful, yet incredibly perplexing is this movie?

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