- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
nimation is perhaps the most eclectic art form in the world, but ask the average moviegoer what their favorite animated film is and you likely won’t get a response that strays beyond Disney and Pixar's catalogs. The same can be said of graphic novels. Despite their close relation to comic books, the former typically offers a higher artistic value than you normally find in the world of superheroes.
So why are so many graphic novels adapted into live-action features? Aside from the obvious advantages in marketing a movie with real actors, art house cinema has never been able to compete with big studio films. Nevertheless, it's always refreshing to see a movie that defies the standard – especially when the story actually benefits from doing so – and "Persepolis" does just that, effortlessly juggling comedy and drama amidst a war-torn backdrop to create a refreshing take on the classic coming-of-age tale unlike anything we've ever seen before.
Based on the novel by Marjane Satrapi, “Persepolis” tells the autobiographical tale of the award-winning author from her childhood days in Iran to her eventual return to the country several years later. Told from the perspective of Marjane as an adult, the film begins in 1978 Teheran as the wide-eyed youngster witnesses the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeni regime. Although she doesn’t understand what’s going on around her, Marjane is encouraged by her family to be independent, and as she enters her teenage years, she begins to adopt certain aspects of Western culture like Nike and Iron Maiden. When the country enters into war with Iraq, however, Marjane’s parents send her away to study abroad in Vienna.
That's only part of the story – Marjane's college years find her discovering sex, drugs and anarchy, not to mention the moral of her own story – and yet “Persepolis” eventually begins to wear on you by the hour mark. While the book is much longer than the film version, the 95-minute runtime already feels like an eternity. It’s not that Marjane’s tale is particularly boring (in fact, it’s quite the opposite), but I’ve never felt so physically and mentally drained from a movie that short since “The Fountain.” Perhaps it would have worked better in a different format; its quirky comedy and German impressionist-inspired art style is tailor-made for the short film circuit. You certainly wouldn’t have concerns over runtime then, and the chance of any one version of Marjane being overshadowed by another would be less likely.
In fact, that seems to be the biggest problem with the film. Just as you’re beginning to get comfortable with the latest version of Marjane, the story jumps to a different time in her life. Personally, the youngest one is the most enjoyable to watch. At half the size (and age) of Juno MacGuff, she’s twice as charming and just as smart. Marjane’s bond with her grandmother is also the purest relationship you’ll see all year, and it really speaks of Satrapi’s ability to paint her family as real people, despite the fact that they're depicted as two-dimensional, black-and-white cartoons.
Many might argue that they’ve seen their share of 9/11-themed movies over the last few months, but “Persepolis” isn’t about the ongoing war. It’s not about any war, really, despite the fact that Marjane is surrounded by one throughout most of her life. Instead, it’s about finding your independence in a society that attempts to hinder it with prejudice, and while we’ve all heard this story before, it’s refreshing to see it told from a different angle. “Persepolis” says more about the current situation in the Middle East than any movie before it – all without mentioning it once. Yes, “Persepolis” is a cartoon, but it’s also an intelligent piece of cinema that deserves the recognition it’s received. And if there’s any reason why Hollywood should consider adapting more graphic novels into animated films in the future, this is it.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
The single-disc release of “Persepolis” has quite a bit of bonus material for such a small film, but the only worthwhile extra on the disc is the 30-minute animation featurette “The Hidden Side of Persepolis,” which deserves a look solely for director Marjane Satrapi’s comical miming of specific scenes for her team of animators. It outdoes the actual making-of featurette, as well as the paltry scene specific audio commentary with directors Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, and Chiara Mastroianni, the voice of Marjane. Rounding out the set is a press conference from the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and a handful of animated scene comparisons moderated by Satrapi, but the DVD's biggest crime is that the menus are all in French. That’s right, despite the fact that the movie comes packaged in an English language case and includes an English language audio track (featuring the voices of Sean Penn, Gena Rowlands and Iggy Pop), the menus are all in French. It’s one thing to expect American viewers to read subtitles, but it’s another to expect them to read French.