Persepolis, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud based on Satrapi’s series of four autobiographical graphic novels, has just opened here in Atlanta after earning considerable praise elsewhere. These include nominations for Best Animated Feature Oscar and Annie Award, a Special Jury Prize at Cannes, and being the official French entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Though I feared these accolades might be due more to the film’s intentions than its qualities, I am delighted to say they are well deserved.(The fact that it was a low-budget, $8.1 million cel animated film, done mostly in black and white, might have also helped its reputation.)
The film recounts Satrapi’s life in Iran both before and after the Shah’s overthrow, as well a stay in Vienna, where her parents send her to escape the Islamic Revolution. This politically-aware coming of age tale is certainly a refreshing change from conventional, Hollywood-style animated movies. It is Satrapi’s animation debut, though Paronnaud has had more experience in the field, mostly on TV series. Their relative lack of filmic experience occasionally shows through, but the power of the narrative soon makes one forget about its flaws.
It is hard to say who was responsible for what, but Paronnaud looks to have put himself at the service of Satrapi’s art, which bears little resemblance to his own underground comic style done he does under the name of Winshluss (see sample above).
In Michael Guillén’s interview posted on Twitch, Paronnaud says the two were influenced by Italian comedies for the family scenes, as well as “German expressionism for some of the décors.” The reference to Italian comedies, if he means the delicious social satires of Pietro Germi, like Divorce Italian Style and Seduced and Abandoned (see picture on left), does ring true. As to German expressionism, the one thing that springs to mind is not so much the film’s décors but its frequent use of silhouetted figures, which cannot help remind one of Lotte Reiniger silhouette films. In any case, the influences seem to have positive.
Though much has been made of the autobiographical nature of Persepolis, especially as it follows the autobiographical tradition in the world of the graphic novel, one should realize that strong biographical films have also been emerging in animation. For instance, two of the past three winners of Best Animated Short Subject Oscars have been biographical films: Chris Landreth’s Ryan and John Canemaker’s The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation, both of which are exceptional films. However, in terms of approach, Persepolis is more like Paul Fierlinger’s feature-length Drawn from Memory (pictured above) made for PBS, as both deal with life under oppressive political regimes. (Fierlinger’s film recounts his life as the son of a Czech diplomat who grows up in America and becomes miserable when his parents bring him to Communist Czechoslovakia.)
Needless to say, I find animated documentaries to be one of the most exciting areas in animation and is something I hope to talk about more in the future. In the meantime, Persepolis is an easy film to recommend.