Prints of Persia

Persepolis finally opened in San Francisco this weekend, which actually managed to rouse me from my general apathy toward all things cinematic — I’ve seen a fair number of movies in the past couple of months, but mainly as an excuse to get out and do something. Sure, Juno is enjoyable as a clever bit of writing, and Cloverfield was an interesting gimmick, but this was a movie I genuinely couldn’t wait to see. Happily, it did not disappoint.

Of course, I am a sucker for good animation, and Persepolis is a beautifully-realized adaptation of the original graphics novel — which, of unfortunately, I’ve only read scattered fragments. But in terms of visual style alone, I’d say it’s probably the most faithful page-to-screen conversion since MTV aired Sam Keith’s The Maxx. Unlike The Maxx, which was brilliant but achieved a lot of its fidelity with low budget cheating, Persepolis moves fluidly and manages to imbue Marjane Satrapi’s clean, simple line illustrations with expressive motion and effective emotion. Color is used sparingly as a framing device, lending the whole thing a sort of historical documentary quality. Which, in a sense, it is.

Anyway, this ended up being a full review that is way too long for a blog entry, so it is continued here. Please to read.

26 thoughts on “Prints of Persia

  1. This movie is undoubtedly on every film critic’s top list of films from 2007. Understandably so; it’s a film that bears a grave message though told, effectively, through a first-hand account. The problem is, however, I just didn’t care.

    Maybe I’m just an ignorant American who is too involved with the intricate ecosystem of my colon, or I’m just not the kind of guy who gets into socio-political commentary that deals with a religion and peoples whom I know absolutely nothing about — extremism not withstanding. When the film played as a typical film (read: the parts that would have been just as effective live), I found myself wanting to do other things: read, write, pick my nose, et. al. But, when it broke out of the verisimilitude of her life, it brought me back. For example: Marjane’s uncle’s tale of his exile was stylistic and emotionally realized. It made me want to look at it, to pay attention to what was being said. Scenes like that kept me there, kept me in my seat for the near two hours of the movie’s length.

    I’m sure it’s all just nitpicking, but the biggest problem I had with the film was its sometimes awkward pacing; and I’m sure that had a lot to do with there being a lot that needed to be said and not a whole lot of time — or budget — to say them. Many of those scenes involved the relationship between Marjane and her grandmother. While I’m just a curmudgeon who shouldn’t be listened to, I do see the significance of the film. I hope that more film makers release ambitious titles like this here in the States; we could all benefit from seeing more art rather than dancing squid-caricatures of Christina Aguilera in animated features. But, I guess, I’m still a sucker for a little more fantastical content in my cartoons.

  2. Yeah, the movie’s pacing is a little wacky – like the book, the second half of the story gets a bit long in the tooth (and I wish that they could’ve found a way to squeeze in a bit more of the shadow puppet-styled history of Iranian culture into film), but it’s still a fantastic little flick.

    I’ve always been a huge fan of the Persepolis books, and I was a little skeptical when I heard that they were turning them into an animated film out them (especially since so much of the charm of the books was a result of Satrapi’s deceptively simple drawing style), but I was happily knocked off my ass when I saw the first bits of the film leak online 2 years ago.

    Anyway, yeah, Persepolis (either the comics or the movie) = WIN.

  3. Sorry. I really wanted to like the movie. Your comment on the strange Eye of the Tiger rendition was spot-on. You could have made a brilliant film critic. Still can, I suppose.

    Have I obsequiously redeemed myself? How ’bout the Oscar? Ratatouille or Persepolis?

  4. For its part; the movie has inspired me to pick up some literature about the middle east. Putting a real human face on them (yeah, I’m an asshole for not caring before) isn’t something the news gives any weight. This coming from a member of the United States Air Force is even more irresponsible…

  5. I have to agree with you guys on the pacing, especially in regards to the ending. Usually the audience gets up to leave the moment the credits start to roll, but with Persepolis the whole audience needed literally five minutes to sit and think about what just happened. I’d still recommend this movie to everyone, just don’t expect a fairytale ending.

    Just wondering, what language did you guys see it in? There’s one scene in the beginning with a British guy that was ridiculously funny if you saw it in French.

  6. It’s been playing in the East Bay for a few weeks; do you hate Oaktown that much?… I don’t blame you.

  7. To clarify the “sadness” comment: I just really hate the notion that animation has to be wacky and fantastic. When done well — as it was here — it can present reality far more powerfully than live action. A live film could never have made that Iron Maiden segue in which the whimsy and frivolity of Marjane’s live dissolves into a stylized warfield. And more importantly, Satrapi’s simple, clean visual style helps break down culture barriers that seeing an actual Iranian actress on screen couldn’t have achieved. Like with anime (“Mom, how come Japanese always draw white people in their cartoons?”) the abstraction afforded by animation helps its characters transcend race and nationality, which was an absolutely essential ingredient for Persepolis’ success — ironically, perhaps, since key moments of the film involved her learning to take pride in her cultural identity. Anyway, the biographical/journalistic aspect of cartooning is something rarely put to film, and I wish we could see more of it.

  8. Saw it in the original French with subtitles. I love this movie, and seeing people complain about how black & white is boring breaks my heart. I am also a sucker for good 2D animation, as noted elsewhere.

    Thoughtful, adult animations are something we need a little more of.

  9. I’d really like to see this movie, but I have a thing about not going to movies by myself. The trouble is, I’m not sure who I could drag to it and how they would react. Oh, well. I’ll work it out when the time comes.

  10. Admittedly, I’m a terrible writer. I chose to point out the “wackiness” in the movie only to make a point: it was the interesting part of the film… for me (not that that needs emphasis, but whatever). I actually dig animation that isn’t stylized or used in order to produce something more evocative than what is currently possible through live action. This was just one of those movies that excelled when it stepped outside of itself to show a more uplifting, even hilarious approach to character/story development.

    Tokyo Godfathers and Grave of the Fireflies did a great job with the medium without resorting to the pandering to children or people with expectations that if it’s animated, it must be immature. But, I can see where you thought I was being a silly goose…

  11. I’ve wanted to see this since I saw the writer on the Colbert Report. Something interesting she said in the interview was about distinguishing the people from the government. Like she said she disliked the American Gov. but loved the American people. I’m gonna see it as soon as it gets here, if it gets here :

  12. Marjane Satrapi’s clean, simple line illustrations

    Hmm. I certainly would categorize Satrapi’s illustrations as simple, but I wouldn’t have thought of them as “clean”. And I think the comic and movie work better in tandem then separately. Average the two they strike a nice balance in pacing and amount of information doled out.

  13. I looked up the movie on Rotten Tomatoes and there’s like one bad review, where the critic basically says “Yeah, it’s historical, but I don’t care. So what?”

    That… kind of baffles me.

  14. Wow, I thought I was the only person that read/watched The Maxx. One of the greatest not-well-known comics ever.

  15. I watch a lot of foreign films (Japanese, Italian, French, Korean, Turkish, Indian, Itallian) and I like them a lot, but they all seem to have large pacing issues, by which I mean, there are parts that drag. Maybe this is just because I am an american, but I am not so sure. Maybe I have seen too many Michael Bay movies.

  16. I should probably check this out, seeing as how I read the comic a couple years ago. It also makes me wonder if, maybe, if the stars aligned, Maus could actually be made into a faithful film. If the world has matured enough to allow an animated film about the Islamic Revolution and get Time Magazine to call Fun Home its Book of the Year… Maybe it’s time.

  17. @Brandon

    I actually agree with a lot of what that reviewer had to say: Persepolis never hooked me due in part to its distance from my reality. And, as I so irresponsibly stated earlier, it’s because I suffer from American ignorance and haven’t bothered to study that which I’ve neglected for my somewhat short life. Thanks to this movie — and where my opinion differs from the reviewer — I’ve actually picked up a couple of books about Iran.

    Not saying I’m better for it; just that I think that I can start improving my perspective.

  18. I’d love to see Maus given this treatment, but I feel like Spiegelman would never consent to “selling out” like that.

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