Friday, April 10, 2015

Feature Film Review: Persepolis

There are many ways to tell stories, and there are also plenty of ways and opportunities to refine the quality of a fictional tale. Refinement is a pesky and risky matter in non-fiction storytelling because you cannot take much liberties with your life story without being disingenuous, criticized and "found out" for doing so. Marjane Satrapi published her life story in comic form as Persepolis. I read the whole thing and really enjoyed the first half but due to the nature of her story, I found the second half disappointing and not as entertaining or enlightening. Since I found some of it unsatisfactory and since the story was already "solidified" as a book, I didn't think there would be much difference or changes made to the story's movie adaptation (co-directed by Mrs. Satrapi). I then read a comment on iMDb by a woman saying that the movie was worse than the graphic novel (in their opinion) and I fear I took that with too many grains of salt... by the time I watched the movie I feared and expected the same problems to plague the film which gave me hesitation to watch it. My expectations were proven wrong, however.

The story is told in a different manner, which gave the film a better, different completeness than the book. In the film you saw Marjane at the end or some unknown time after the events in the comic and of the bulk of the film's story. This gives the film the reflective value that a story like this can benefit from since it adds another dimension to the story
the dimension of reflection. It is in this extra layer of story-telling where I believe the film succeeds to be more entertaining and streamlined yet more insightful than the comic.

The opening titles are a creative void with little floating worlds, black backgrounds, white pocketed islands in the dark. The titles stop and we are now in a world of colors: we see a shot of the exterior of an airport and then the insides of it with our main character and narrator Marjane drifting through it as if without much purpose; just another day of travelling. She is presented as awkward, misunderstood, distant from others and alone. We determine this to be the "present time", and Marjane begins reminiscing the past which suddenly transitions back into black and white.

I feel that to review this movie is weird. Sometimes we review things to create conclusions and prove points and that is what I want to do. Other times we say what works and what didn't and it's all about opinions or the mechanics of the thing. The movie is really fun to watch while being very serious. There isn't much more to say about that without bringing up the story of Marjane and why one would want to watch this film. So let me tell you why you might be interested in this movie (via a Plot Summery, with the essence of the story in bold): It's about the life of an Iranian girl who grows up in Iran and then is sent abroad to Europe due to the terrible war going on in Iran. Eventually becoming destitute and excruciatingly homesick, she ends up going back to Iran having grown, struggled and with a great gaining of experiences. She gains experience in Iran too but she realizes during more struggles that she cannot stay there despite the love of her family. The movie ends upon these reflections and returns to the present.

When it comes to plot summery, I tend to avoid them like telemarketers. I like to dive into a story without any expectation or prior knowledge. If you read all of the previous paragraph it may not sound exciting but this is because I have simplified it very much. It is a simple story yes but with a lot of goodies and with wonderful animation and characters. It has a lot of love and hate and disappointments and hope that even a reader of the comic would enjoy as new and find fresh. The film goes through a lot of different subjects and life experiences that never bore the viewer. It leaves us constantly thinking about it while relating to our lives too.

The film despite being called Persepolis (and the title isn't even mentioned in the film version) is the story Marjane told a second time and a better time too in my opinion. It takes great advantage of animation by making the characters so alive with their expressions and by enhancing the narrative with distinguishing animation in it's digressions. This enlivens the imagination and style while feeling realistic and very human (it is 2D animation after all). It made the movie end on a note more satisfying than the previous, without distorting reality or erasing failures... The comic was too much of an emotional roller coaster for you to "get something out of it" without being annoyed. The movie gave you emotions and delivered them, good and bad in a way that created a more definitive (and when I say this I mean better) narrative. Since Marjane directed it, I believe that while narrowing the content of her life story from the comic, she gave it the emotional treatment that makes a better story. This emotional treatment is enhanced by being artistically invigorating to look at, which helps us relate to life, makes it fun and but doesn't let us completely escape from it.

This is a picture (mine) of the DVD art. The film is a reflection on Marjane's life. In this reflection told a second time, she the storyteller made something more powerful than before and let us reflect better too. In reflections we can discern life better, learn more and remember that our bittersweet past not only contributes to who we were but who we are now.

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