Tuesday, October 27, 2015

OVP: Persepolis (2007)

Film: Persepolis (2007)
Stars: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Gabriele Lopes, Danielle Darrieux
Director: Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Animated Feature Film)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Foreign language films occasionally get a slight pass from critics because they are different and because they feel new.  This is occasionally because they are, in fact, new in their approach to the medium, but more often it's just the language barrier.  There is a doubly low threshold for critical love for animated films that are in a foreign language, as Persepolis proved a few years back when it won an Oscar nomination and mad props all across the critical community.  While the animation is occasionally inventive, I found the film a bit dull and listless, and the main character annoying, and not in a way that felt particularly compelling or sharp.  The film's approach is more where the plaudits came from, in my opinion, rather than of anything of great substance on the screen.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film tells the tale of Marjane (Mastroianni as an adult, Lopes as a child) as she grows up as a privileged youth in Iran.  We follow her as she explores adolescence, frequently taking moralistic detours and finding herself drawing the world in broad strokes.  She goes back and forth from Iran, and we see her life framed up against the unrest that followed the downfall of the Shah and the rise of the Ayatollah.

One of the first things that really bothered me about the film and Marjane in particular is that the entire story of her youth to adulthood is so rife with cliche that it's hard to believe from scene-to-scene that she's the same person.  Critics may argue that this is a moot point, and they may be right since the film is autobiographical of director Satrapi's experiences, but I think she took dramatic license with the story as it unfolded.  As the movie goes forward Marjane seems to be whatever the plot most needs her to be, learning a lesson in the most absolute terms to underline every "this REALLY happened."  There's a scene late in the film where she gets a man arrested by pretending he made a pass at her and laughing about it to a disappointed grandmother.  The scene is meant to show how flighty Marjane is and how she doesn't consider the consequences of her actions, but the truth seems to be that either the Marjane of earlier in the film has lost mad IQ points or she simply didn't do this, because only a fool could know her grandmother and not know that she would disapprove.  I'll allow some extra forgiveness on some of the troubles with love (we've all been fools in that department), but even there we're left with a woman that seems smart and, more appropriately, self-assured who then watches her marriage crumble into oblivion even though we can tell from the outset that it will end poorly, and she seems self-aware enough to be able to realize that as well.

This story convenience makes the film frustrating.  The animation is interesting, and I loved the juxtaposition of the black-and-white and the color, making her youth that much more relatable to the audience (it feels like it could just as easily be Paris, New York, or London rather than Tehran, and I suspect that was the point).  However, the lead protagonist is too contradictory, and you can't get a sense of her mood.  Some will claim "that's a teenager," but in reality teenagers are relatively consistent and have moral compasses that remain in roughly the same direction as they reach adulthood.  Few teenagers have the wild changes of attitude and opinion that Marjane does, and this feels like a heightened version of the character, but as someone who is trying to instill a larger lesson about the unrest that occurred in Iran in the 1980's and 90's, the directors need a more constant main character, and not one that becomes a series of eye rolls.

As a result, I can't really recommend this movie and while I see why people liked it, I found the film too surface-level and too basic.  I had a similar reaction to Waltz with Bashir (though I liked that movie much better than this), a movie with spellbinding animation but one where the story is too simplistic and too reliant on its assumed prestige.  Persepolis is an interesting failure in this regard, but a failure nonetheless.

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