Director – Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Writer – Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Starring – (English version) Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Sean Penn, Iggy Pop, Gena Rowlands
Who says you need a big budget, famous studio (such as Pixar) to make a quality piece of animated filmmaking? That seems to be what is accepted evidenced by the amount of them that we get in cinemas. Persepolis proves to be the opposite of that, a true example that simple can sometimes be better.
Based on the graphic novel by the same name, Persepolis tells the story of a young girl, Marjane Satrapi, who grows up in the midst of the revolution in 1970’s Iran.
From the opening few seconds of Persepolis it’s clear that this isn’t going to be your average animated film that we’re all used to. It’s done in stark black-and-white contrast which provides a fantastically unusually visual experience for the audience. It’s the kind of animation that anyone with a fair knowledge of a relevant computer program could conjure up if given the time and money to do so. It’s the simplicity of how the film is drawn and animated that gives it most of it’s charm. From it’s extremely simplified backdrops to the simple and little-detailed expressions of the characters. It’s amazing how such simply drawn expressions and facial features can so accurately and powerfully convey genuine human and emotions and make the viewer feel them along with the characters. After all it is just manipulation of shapes and colours on-screen but when in the right hands, as it clearly is here, that can be ever more effective then even a live action human face.
The films deals with all kinds of issues both personal and ones that affect an entire country such as politics and religion. The film is set amidst the Iranian revolution back in the 70’s and in that respect the film does tend to oversimplify things. It is here that the film’s primary weakness is contained; because we see everything pretty much from the perspective of a young girl things aren’t delved into as much as called for.
In it’s dealing with the more personal issues of growing up, not just among conditions that most don’t have to deal with but just as a human being, it’s very effective. It delves into everything from acceptance, rebellion, love, anger, rejection and above all trying to find the right place in the world for yourself. It’s all very endearing and charming, not least of all because of the lead character. She’s the kind of bright-eyed, curious and likeable little girl that’s a representation of the way we all would have liked to have been at that age.
There are two versions of the film available for audiences; in the UK and US it’s most likely the English language version that will be most readily available. In this version the voice casting defies the primary scepticism that I had by being pretty much perfect. There’s an unusual mix of voices from Sean Penn and Gene Rowlands to the very strange but very effective Iggy Pop. I usually can’t stand dubbed films but I make an exception for animation, that is if the casting is good and here it very much is.
I was quite surprised at some of the content of the film taking into account it’s only a 12A rating. It’s not only some of the moderate-to-strong language but some of the themes it deals with. I personally would have titled it a 15, perhaps if it was a live action film with the same content that would have been so.
I doubt if you will have seen anything quite like this before, not just in animation but film in general. It’s very creative with brilliantly original, simplistic animation and some great voice acting. It’s not perfect but it’s definitely one of the better films of 2008 so far.