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Persepolis
Director: Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi
Screenplay: Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi (based on the graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi)
Voices: Chiara Mastroianni (Marjane Satrapi), Catherine Deneuve (Mrs. Statrapi), Danielle Darrieux (Marjane’s grandmother), Simon Abkarian (Mr. Satrapi), Gabrielle Lopes (Marjane as a child), François Jerosme (Anouche)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2007
Country: France / U.S.
Persepolis
Persepolis One of the best things I can say about Persepolis--which, in my opinion, is one of the best things I can say about any film--is that I cannot imagine it being in any style other than the one in which it is told. The film borrows its simple, yet exceedingly elegant visual look from its source material, the celebrated autobiographical comic books by Marjane Satrapi. With a few exceptions, the images are in stark black and white, and the characters are drawn with a simplicity of basic lines and curves (it reminds me of a cross between Charles Schulz’s Peanuts and Hergé’s Tintin books), yet they are so deeply expressive that it’s easy to forget you’re watching animation. The fundamentally basic nature of the animation is a perfect vehicle for the universality of Satrapi’s coming-of-age story; at the same time, though, its underlying complexity also reflects on the specifics of the story’s time and place, which is Iran during the Islamic Revolution and its aftermath.

The story begins in Iran in the late 1970s when Marjane (Gabrielle Lopes) is a precocious child who dreams of being a prophet for God. She lives with her parents (Catherine Deneuve and Simon Abkarian) and her grandmother (Danielle Darrieux), intellectuals with leftist leanings who are at first elated when the Shah loses power (one of the film’s funniest and most politically sharp scenes involves Marjane, picking up on her parents’ sentiments, marching around the living room chanting, “Down with the Shah! Down with the Shah!”). Unfortunately, the Shah is replaced by a fundamentalist Islamic regime that clamps down on the country, forcing the women to wear veils in public and generally suppressing any form of culture or behavior that might threaten its ideals.

As a teenager, Marjane (now voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) is sent by her parents to Vienna for schooling, where she falls in with a group of adolescent nihilists and goes through all the growing pains associated with the teenage years. She struggles and rebels, learns about love and loss, even takes to living on the streets for a while as she grapples with her identity and tries to find her place in the world. Central to this struggle is her ethnic heritage, which is a source of both pride and shame, especially in Austria where Iranians are viewed as “savages.” In this regard, the title of the film is extremely important in its evocation of the ancient ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire, the seat of Iranian pride. Marjane eventually returns to Iran and her family, gets married, and continues to struggle with her identity as a woman and an Iranian who yearns for more than her native country will allow.

The screenplay, which was written by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, both of whom codirected the film, has a natural arc as it traces Marjane’s life from precocious kid with a head full of dreams, to a sharpened young woman with the weight of experience. However, that arc unfolds through a primarily episodic structure, which provides a solid base for tracing both Marjane’s life and the shifting world around her. It only takes a few anecdotal moments--a pair of veiled women chastising Marjane for wearing Western style clothing and (heaven forbid!) a Michael Jackson pin, or the family having to rush home and dump out all their contraband alcohol before a group of machine-gun-wielding government thugs finds it--to convey the oppression of Iran under the Islamic regime and the liberating potential of what would otherwise be dismissed as pop-culture junk (never has rocking out to Iron Maiden with a tennis racquet guitar ever been so meaningful). By the same token, life in the West, where pop-culture junk is all too readily available, is no picnic either, as Marjane is continually misunderstood and unfairly judged by those around her who think they know what it means to be Iranian.

What is most miraculous about Persepolis is the way Paronnaud and Satrapi manage to balance the story’s often wildly divergent tones. The film is at times uproariously funny, and it has moments of beautifully wild abandon, such as when the teenage Marjane tears delightfully into her own off-key rendition of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” At the same time, the film is a chilling depiction of the dangers of religious fundamentalism, and the scenes in Iran in the 1980s construct a sad portrait of a culture being slowly strangled. Marjane’s coming of age is wonderfully specific to her time and place, but it is also universal in the most meaningful sense. Satrapi originally wrote her graphic novels (although she prefers to the term “comic books”) to convey to those in the West what it is like to struggle with the identity crisis of being Iranian during a time of religious intolerance. The film version continues that mission with a rare elegance and power, marrying the funny and the painful in ways that will be recognizable to anyone.

Persepolis Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
AnamorphicYes
Audio
  • English Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
    Supplements
  • Selected audio commentary by Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud & Chiara Mastoianni
  • “The Hidden Side of Persepolis” featurette
  • “Behind the Scenes of Persepolis” featurette
  • Animated Scene Comparisons with commentary by Marjane Satrapi
  • 2007 Cannes Film Festival Press conference Q & A with cast and crew
  • DistributorSony Pictures Home Entertainment
    SRP$28.95
    Release DateJune 24, 2008

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    While there are a few scenes in the film that have some color, the majority of Persepolis is in black and white--and I mean black and white. The backgrounds have some gray tones to them, but this is very nearly a purely monochromatic film, which really shows off the potential of high-definition transfers to create true black. The blacks in this 1080p image are excellent, as is the detail and the depth, which allows you to truly appreciate the hand-drawn beauty of the images. The disc includes both the original French language track, as well as an English language track featuring the voices of Chiara Mastroianni, Sean Penn, Catherine Deneuve, Gena Rowlands and Iggy Pop, both in Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround. While the majority of the film is composed of dialogue and subtle atmospheric sounds, there are some moments when the surrounds come alive, particularly during the scenes that depict the Iran-Iraq war.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    Given the depth and intrigue of this film, it’s a bit disappointing that there isn’t more audio commentary. All we get is “selected commentary” on three scenes: cowriter/codirector Marjane Satrapi talks about the opening scene; cowriter/codirector Vincent Paronnaud discusses the Vienna scene; and actress Chiara Mastoianni ruminates on her work in the “Eye of the Tiger” scene. “The Hidden Side of Persepolis” (30 min.) is a very good featurette that is primarily a behind-the-scenes tour by Satrapi of the studio where the animators drew each cel by hand (it’s a particularly instructional look at the labor that goes into traditional animation, as well as an eloquent defense of why this kind of work still has a place in the cinema). “Behind the Scenes of Persepolis” (9 min.) looks at the development of the story and the animation, but its primary focus is on the recording of the voice talent, particularly the American dub (it features interviews and footage of recording sessions with Iggy Pop and Gena Rowlands). The section labeled “Animated Scene Comparisons” compares storyboards and animatics with three finished scenes from the film with commentary by Marjane Satrapi (it also includes several animation tests done during preproduction). However, the three scenes all differ significantly from conception to execution, which makes this more of a “deleted scenes” section (there is an entire dreamlike suicide scene that was cut in preproduction). Also included on the disc is a half hour of footage from the 2007 Cannes Film Festival press conference with the film’s directors, producers, and several of the voice actors.

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


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