Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Review: Persepolis

This was going to be a set of three reviews covering the three animated films I'd seen recently, but as usual I got carried away with the first one, and ended up with no time to do the others justice. Hence, just the one review:

Persepolis is an animated film following the young life of Marjane Satrapi, as she grows up in Iran and Austria. The story is adapted from Marjane's autobiographical comics, and covers her life from age 10 to her mid-twenties.

While I'm totally in favour of the idea that films don't necessarily have to have a "point" or a "message", and that such things shouldn't be crowbarred into a primarily autobiographical story, films that don't have some thematic focus run the risk of feeling flat. The early part of the story, in Iran, is set against the background of massive historical events, but some of the impact is lost because the story is told through a child's eyes. While it gives an interesting perspective, it also means that the memories (and hence the plot) are somewhat jumbled and disconnected. In contrast, the portions of the film set when the protagonist is older are told with more fluency and commentary, but cover less global and more personal developments.

I rarely feared for the main character, as she sometimes seemed more at risk of boredom than personal injury. This is not to say that there needs to be a physical threat like that to make things interesting, but I felt the story of a girl growing up in a muslim country and, certainly internally, challenging some of the social norms of the culture, would maybe have been more heavily challenged. As it is, she is constantly supported by her friends and family, and a lot of the interesting political or cultural clashes are glossed over.

Part of this reaction, no doubt, comes from the fact that I saw the film while in the middle of reading 'Infidel' by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which also describes the life of a girl growing up in a Muslim country, but with a far darker tone. I suspect that having this in my mind made the parallel experiences of Marjane seem less serious and left me looking for political commentary in the film that was perhaps not its intent. Nevertheless, the film does cover a number of dark events without really ever becoming too emotionally invested in them. Rather than reacting along with the protagonist, we are generally well aware that we're watching the events unfold, and certainly personally, I felt a certain disconnect from the emotional aspects of the film throughout.

There are some excellent parts to the film, and the presentation is great throughout, switching between semi-realistic and very stylised representations of the world and characters. As a coming of age story, it is entirely competant, and Marjane's personal journey is explored throughout, even if the fact that it is a partial autobiography leaves the ending somewhat unsatisfying.

Verdict: Stylish and well told, if lacking a little depth and punch.

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