Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Persepolis: Another Movie About The Suckitude In The Middle/Far East

But wait! This one is animated.

And, actually, that's an important starting consideration. Low budget animation can be very hard to watch. (Check out Adult Swim some time.) This mostly black-and-white marvel manages to evoke the UP-style 2D animation, techniques of Ralph Bakshi, and the occasional florid Yellow Submarine-ish look.

I'm grateful. Really. The animation serves the movie.

I found the story interesting and engaging, which is in itself kind of intriguing, because it has features that I've found reprehensible in other recent films. Basically, the story follows Marji Satrapi, who grew up during the fall of the Shah, the subsequent revolution, the Islamic takeover, the subsequence Iraq-Iran War, and the increasing enforcement of Shari'a.

Where The Kite Runner featured a character who was cowardly but obsessed with his shame, Persepolis is about a character who commits no great acts and is primarily self-absorbed. When the movie starts, she's a child, and it's understandable that she sees things in terms of herself. (One of the movies subtle yet moving contrasts is that of young Marji's dreams of being a prophet at the beginning of the movie with her defiance of others claiming to be prophets toward the end.)

When the Iran-Iraq War starts, her parents send her to live in Vienna, where she associates with a bunch of typical teens enamored of anarchist/nihilist type philosophies in the usual shallow way. The ironic part is that when she realizes how full of crap they are (having survived the sort of upheaval they all listlessly pine for) she doesn't seem to really gain any insight into her own experience. (It's kind of funny to me, though, that she's made to feel shame about her Iranian heritage in multi-culti Europe. Iranians in USA seem to refer to themselves as Persians, but I can't recall anyone caring.)

Even when she goes back to Iran, and the repression is bad and growing worse all the time, she doesn't really clue in quickly. (As it turns out, she's still pretty young, around 20, which is sort of shocking given all she's goes through in her teens.) There's a persistent undercurrent of anger and victimization which is somehow not off-putting, perhaps because it's rather warranted.

The story wisely stays away from trying to figure anything out. The situation in Iran has been complicated for some time, and it's clear even the characters don't really get what's going on (though it's fairly clear they'd like it to stop, please).

We're often told that Iranians are a lot like us and that the smart thing to do in Iran is encourage them to make the choice they want to make anyway. And it's hard not to admire a people who are willing to party when the consequence of being caught partying is death. Like the Afghanis depicted in Kite Runner, we're left with the trite observation that things have gone horribly wrong there and the world would be much benefited from stability and freedom in those parts.

I have to wonder, though: Can we get a story like this about Iraq?

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