Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Punk is not dead

This evening I found myself deeply moved by a very special animated film that may be under the radar for many of my readers, Persepolis. The film is an animated adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi, working with animator Vincent Paronnaud has simply put, made one of the best films of the year. The pair ensures that, as opposed to rote graphic novel adaptations like Sin City or 300, each frame of the film finds a unique hook to make the story its own entity: inspired yet distinct from the graphic novel. In Persepolis nuns move like snakes, the same rotating army falls continuously into a canyon and jasmine leaves fall from bras. One intensely evocative image after another. But its not just the sequences, Satrapi's figures, while very simple and seemingly cartoonish, allow for an incredibly dense range of expressions.

It's remarkable to think that no matter where you are in the world children are basically the same. The basic pretense to do good, the way their violent games quickly escalate, the way their interests shifts from week to week. Persepolis shows this off with incredibly wit and wisdom. This being an autobiographical story Marjane condenses a great deal of her life into an hour and half, but the story never feels abbreviated. Everything seems well divided into sections featuring her youth as a Bruce Lee fan and would-be universal prophet under the Shah, her punk loving teen years amongst under the Republic and her time as a would-be anarchist trying to find herself in French speaking Vienna. When she returns home her parents hardly recognize her and things are not the same. She may be a child that lived through revolutions and war but childhood is a constant no matter what the context.

Persepolis has a lot to say about international politics but it never once feels like a lecture. Here the West can shift from irresponsible puppet-master for alternatively backing various Iranian regimes, to a symbol of inspiration and rebellion (there is an inspired sequence set to Survivor's Eye of the Tiger that is at once hilarious and exhilarating). I recall one of my film professors, the great critic Andrew Sarris commenting that a film can't really teach you but it can set off a spark that will make you want to learn more. Persepolis will hopefully inspire a lot of interest in Iran, a country that for all its faults (and there are many not the least of which being that its President doesn't acknowledge the existence of Israel) has a fascinating history and is not inhabited withe enemies, but people.

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