Stronger Loving World

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Friday, February 22, 2008

I saw Persepolis at the Mayan Theatre in Denver (marquee reads: "bar open/see movies in double vision") Persepolis may not be the best movie to come out last year, but it might be the most important. It's also the most versatile, able to portray a range of emotional spaces while never de-emphasizing its animated body. Persepolis successfully acts as a docudrama on 1980's Iran, as well as a gut-walloping personal memoir. Yet it remains in its every moment a cartoon--weightless, melodic, amorphous, hovering above seriousness as it discusses war, death, and revolution. This is what I like the most about Persepolis- it relies on time tested tropes from the rich history of animation in order to tell an important story that may have been bleak, pretentious and humorless otherwise. Persepolis makes light of war, revolution, and fascism in its worthy bid to supply it victims dignity.

If you've read Marjane Satrapi's comic, it's still worth seeing the movie to witness how every quirky panel, joke, and clever aside ebbs within the movie with a perfect comic rhythm. In the introductory scenes, the doe-eye avatar of young Marjie, who at five years old is an avowed Bruce Lee fan, creeps with faux-karate steps toward another girl, face comically earnest, proclaiming "revenge is a dish best served cold". When her father threatens discipline, little Marjie creeps in reverse, unwavering in her movie hero gait and deadly serious expression, but clearly acknowledging a fear of being reprimanded. It's a perfectly tuned introduction that's cute and funny and well timed as any old Warner Brothers cartoon. Marjie's unusual romanticization of Western culture is pointedly demonstrated: ABBA and Micheal Jackson infiltrate her restrictive life through dealers who whisper the names of their wares to Marjie as if they were dirty street names for narcotics. Adolescent Marjie adopts a leather jacket with the hand-stitched words "Punk is not Ded" and wears Adidas sneakers which, ironically, leads to her getting into trouble for being "a punk" by the non-english reading locals, simply because Adidas is a recognized Western brand. At one point, a rebellious Marjie brings home an Iron Maiden record, the tiny cultural relic galvanizing thirteen year old Marjie to played pump her fist in the air and plays air guitar in her room.

Persepolis is cute, but it's pretty fucking poignant too. In a pivotal scene that nearly brought a brother to tears, Marjie's mother, exhausted and terrified by her life-threatening and subversive outbursts in class, frantically explains how one of her friends was "married" by a guard to facilitate her rape. Not pausing between words, she then falls to her knees and squeezes her daughter, assuring that she won't let anything happen to her.

This leads to the marginally less interesting second act of Persepolis, in which Marjie studies in a boarding school in France, befriending Austrian nihilists and having clumsy love affairs. Fortunately, Persepolis is strong enough to hold its own as personal memoir as it does first person political treatise, and when Ms. Satrapi returns to a war-torn Iran, she is a more empathetic, focused guide.

Persepolis is primarily two-dimensional, cel-shaded animation, which I found to be generous after watching Pixar's Cars seventeen times with my nephew. It also utilizes rotoscoping and flash animations for interstitial scenes, all of which allow the movie a cool, flexible look that never comprimises its overall flavor. The soundtrack is lush and orchestral, filling up every bit of emotional space and, at times, becoming a little overbearing. This is an inevitable necessity of animated films-- they need music to micromanage every breath and fingertap. I think of it as a big old skeleton made of piano keys.

So there you have it, this is my favorite movie of 2007--I liked it even better than the popular Daniel Day Lewis Talks Loud Movie and No Country For Zero Sum Games. Also, it contains what I promise is greatest montage of "Eye of the Tiger" ever set to film.