Saturday, February 9, 2008

Drawing a Revolution

I finally saw Persepolis last night after lots of waiting and anticipation. I guess you could say that I've been waiting for over 8 months, because I could have seen it at Cannes. However, I missed it the first couple times, and then it conflicted with other films I wanted to see on the last day. Instead, I either saw No Country for Old Men a second time, Paranoid Park a second time, or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I don't remember which specifically was playing at the same time. Not bad alternatives, though, and I don't regret it. I could have seen it sooner than yesterday, but I was sort of lukewarm on it for awhile and only got really excited within the past few weeks. Plus, it's painfully hard to find, even in Chicago. For the longest time, it was only playing in one theater, and it finally expanded to two. Whoa, don't get too crazy. What would happen if it played in, gasp, three? Seriously, we need to talk about the theater situation in Chicago. I don't know who "we" is, but something needs to be done. It's actually pretty pitiful. These smaller films are not available like they should be in the third biggest market in the country. Chicago is my heart. I love it, but I think we're going through a rough patch right now.

Sorry, I just had to rant for a bit. I'm really happy I finally saw Persepolis, although I didn't love it as much as I thought I would. That's the problem with expectations sometimes. Actually, I don't know if it has to do with expectations. It's just my personal reaction. My only real expectation was that I would see something unique that I would really like, and I did. I did love it, but I'm not falling all over myself about it. I'm just not passionate about it, but I think I will be with more viewings. It really is a fantastic achievement. Marjane Satrapi has led a mind-boggling life. It was very humbling to watch Persepolis.

Satrapi is obviously the mastermind behind the film. It's her autobiography, for starters. She also co-directed and co-wrote it with Vincent Parannoud, and she wrote the critically acclaimed and much beloved graphic novels on which it is based. I think reading the novels will only enhance my enjoyment. I think they've been compiled into one collection now because of the film, and I can't wait to read it. She really presents Iran's turbulent history in a very understandable, universal way. I can't speak for other people, but I knew virtually nothing about Iran except for some tidbits I had learned from an amazing teacher who was from Iran and some information I had discovered about Iranian cinema. I was really ignorant of the social and political history. I think it's marvelous that she exposes it for what it is and was. She got out of Iran to live freely, to make her art and tell her story, because she would never have been allowed to do it there. And it's lucky for the world that she did. This is very much a cautionary tale, and I hope the world's leaders pay attention.

Persepolis is sweet, profound, funny, deeply melancholy, inspirational, and very moving. It's about love and family and freedom, things that most people take for granted. It's a very beautiful story, perfectly captured by Olivier Bernet's haunting, exquisite score. Satrapi was fortunate to be surrounded by an open-minded, liberal, steadfastly supportive, and eternally encouraging family. They're really terrific, and it's clear to see how they produced such a special woman. I know this might be a weird thing to say, but her grandma steals the film. She's so funny, smart, sincere, totally irreverent, and a riot. I love her! She's the grandmother that everyone wants to have. The film is surprisingly and delightfully funny. The grandmother gets a lot of the laughs, but there are some other great moments, most notably an already-famous sequence set to "Eye of the Tiger."

The film's flaws are very minor. At times, I think it lulls, which is odd considering that I think another of its flaws is that it covers too much material too quickly. It's only an hour and a half, and Satrapi tried to cram just a bit too much in, so it feels rushed sometimes. Then again, I felt it really dragged at points. That might not make sense, and I know those things contradict each other, but that's what I thought. Also, there are way too many extended fade-to-blacks. What I mean is that it fades to black, but instead of promptly going to the next scene, it holds on the black for an awkward couple seconds longer than necessary. Honestly, fading to black isn't effective or poignant or powerful when every scene ends that way. It's actually quite annoying.

But, like I said, the flaws are minimal. The black and white animation is absolutely astonishing. I've never seen anything quite like it. It's so simple, but there's so much depth, beauty, creativity, and poetry to it that it's never boring. I hate to say it, but Pixar has been outdone. Of course, the animation in Ratatouille is more realistic and eye-popping, but haven't we seen it before? I'm not trying to diminish Pixar's significance at all, because I think they've elevated animation beyond anything anyone could have ever dreamed. And Ratatouille is Pixar's most sophisticated film yet with its most mature themes - self-actualization, the nature of art, and the field of criticism (the latter is something I especially treasure). But Persepolis is totally unique and equally eye-popping in its own way. There were moments when I was so struck by the pure and almost surreal beauty of the animation that my breath caught in my throat. Obviously, Persepolis is stylized, but it adds to its charm and makes it more effective. And really, how can a film about a rat realizing his dreams of being a chef compare to a film about a woman's life under an oppressive regime, her rebellious efforts to find freedom, and the bittersweet decision to leave her home and family behind?

I don't want to be trite or petty, but everyone knows that Pixar is going to rack up about a hundred more Oscars in the future. Let something else have a chance. Persepolis is the total package - it has great animation and a fantastic story to match. It deserves the Oscar for Best Animated Film this year. The award most certainly doesn't belong to Surf's Up. How that movie managed to sneak into this category, with these two other outstanding entries, I have no idea.

Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)

No comments: