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Monday, October 15, 2007

Film: New York Film Festival -- Perceptive Persepolis Wows Closing Night Crowd


The night ended with a standing ovation at Lincoln Center's cavernous Avery Fisher Hall as the lights went up following the premiere of Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi's animated adaptation of her acclaimed graphic novels. The ovation was well deserved as Persepolis is one of the best films of the year, funny, moving, disturbing and entrancing in turn. The autobiographical story follows a young girl growing up in late 70s Iran under the Shah, and then later after the Islamic revolution. The girl, Marjane, is a precocious Bruce Lee fanatic who absorbs information like a sponge. She has an indomitable spirit and a sharp tongue which she soon learns is a familial trait. As she gets into banned music and fashions her run-ins with the religious enforcers become more serious. There is an outstanding sequence where she goes to buy black market tapes, passing buy vendors one by one until one whispers "Iron Maiden". When they challenge her "Michael Jackson" pin she claims that it's actually a picture of Malcolm X. As Iran becomes more hostile to the free thinking and to women, her parents send her to Vienna to study but Marjane discovers that Europe brings its own set of challenges along with freedoms.

There is something here that will bolster the political opinions on both the right and on the left. Seeing the oppression of the Iranian people certainly sharpens the desire to want to help them throw off the theocracy they live in. The horror of Saddam Hussein's ruinous war against them also engenders great sympathy from the audience. However the images of the war deliberately echo those early images from Gulf War II of "smart bombs" and tracers over a city at night, and the devastation of war is heartbreaking. Persepolis doesn't flinch from the complicity of the west in supplying the arms for these wars, or in setting the corrupt Shah on his throne in the first place (shown in a very funny sequence).

Still the center of the film is Marjane's relationship to her family and to her heritage. This is all embodied by her beloved, outspoken grandmother. Even when she is away from her, she imagines what her grandmother might think of one or another action she takes.

The animation, primarily in black and white, hews to the imaginative and stark design of the graphic novels. Echoes of Edvard Munch, Edward Hopper, and Persian art abound. Also notable is the wonderful music by Olivier Bernet which sets the mood expertly -- save for a great sequence set to Survivor's "Eye of The Tiger". Satrapi and co-director Vincent Paronnaud have brought an indelible creation to the screen, a must see for all film lovers.

Here's a teaser trailer below:

Persepolis rates five out of five headscarves:

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