Thursday, 9 March 2017

World Animation: France & Iran - Persepolis

In cinema, the theme of growing up or 'coming of age' is often very popular and can lead to very impactful stories. However, it can also often become very repetitive and may not always feel original or authentic - it begins to feel fabricated. However, Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical animation Persepolis (2007) is refreshing for both animated films and the theme of growing up and belonging. While Persepolis is considered to be a French film, it is arguable that it is actually an Iranian film due to the content and Satrapi's history. The film itself is an adaptation of a graphic novel written by Satrapi about about her childhood in Iran, the Iranian Revolution, and her life growing up and trying to find where she belonged as she walked a fine line between freedom and family.

Fig 1. Persepolis (2007)
There is no question that Persepolis contains some very serious, heavy themes and events. When the audience is first shown a cartoony child in a flat 2D style, it is hard to imagine at first that the film would involve the Iranian Revolution, war, death, loneliness, and depression. However, somehow Satrapi and her small team of 20 animators (which is not a lot for a feature length animation) managed to make it work while keeping all of the emotional impact. "Satrapi's cinematic version of her stories radiates brutal honesty. A hand-drawn 2D triumph produced in France by the country's few remaining traditional animators, and shot primarily in black and white, Persepolis feels ripped straight from its creator's heart, a sore, scathing, warts-and-all account of her formative years bolstered by its formidable aesthetic inventiveness, and elevated to the near-apex of its art form by its unguarded sincerity," (Schager, 2007). Despite not having read the original graphic novels, it is nice to see an artist stay true to her work and push it through from one media such as illustration, into another one such as animation.

Despite the very small team of animators working on the film, Persepolis suffered no problems related quality and it was nominated for an Oscar - only to lose to Brad Bird's Ratatouille (2007). Many people feel that this was a shame, "In this age of Pixar, it is good to be reminded that animation is rooted not in any particular technique, but in the impulse to bring static images to life. And 'Persepolis,' austere as it may look, is full of warmth and surprise, alive with humour and a fierce independent spirit. Its flat, stylized depiction of the world - the streets and buildings of Tehran and Vienna in particular - turns geography into poetry," (Scott, 2007). Persepolis had an element of elegance to it paired with its raw emotional impact. It provided the viewer with information that they may not have known of before, particularly for the western audience in Europe and the United States. Perhaps the reason why Persepolis lost the Oscar, despite the arguably more impactful story and animation (even with a small animation team), is due to this lack of compassion understanding to those who are different to us.

Fig 2. War
Often people from western countries do not know or fully understand what happens in places such as Iran, and due to prejudices...they often don't want to try and understand. Persepolis presents a chance for people to watch and follow what life is like for people in those eastern countries. It brings back the human element to the people from those countries which is often shamefully lost due to our 'differences'. "Whenever I read another story about the clerical rule that now grips Iran, I think of those people, and millions of other Iranians like them, who do not agree with the rigid restrictions they live under, particularly the women. Iranians are no more monolithic than we are, a truth not grasped by our zealous leader," (Ebert, 2008). This prejudice is something that Satrapi faced both in real life and in her film.

Interestingly, Satrapi has lived in Iran, Austria, and France so she was able to see both eastern and western life. This granted her the unique position and ability to try and connect these two worlds so everyone could see both sides. She often struggled to fit in, no matter where she went she didn't feel like she belonged. She moved away from her family in Iran and began apartment-hopping in Vienna but then returned back to the oppressive condition of Iran once more and eventually moved to France. "Ultimately, Persepolis is concerned with the state of exile, a condition that, as evidenced in Marjane's teenage stabs at trying to ingratiate herself into various social scenes (nihilistic punk, groovy disco, anarchic hippie), hopelessly frustrated identity formation. The feeling of belonging to many places at once and yet none at all is omnipresent, creating an undercurrent of miserable friction that, as the lonely conclusion implies, can never be completely resolved," (Schager, 2007). This is part of how Satrapi was able to connect her audience to the film - the desire to belong somewhere but being unable to find it is something that every human being feels during their lifetime.

Fig 3. Marjane Satrapi

Even though Persepolis may not be as optimistic as other animated films, the emotional authenticity, animation style, and adult themes remain impactful and entertaining. If treated with an open and accepting mind, it is easy to come out of the film with a better understanding of those who are different to ourselves and to not judge so quickly. It is truthful in its representation of the transformation from an innocent young child into a troubled teenager and then being thrust into the unpredictable adult world. Despite it not being the most cheerful, a sense of humour is still sprinkled throughout the plot to keep it from becoming too heavy. Through the use of Satrapi's original graphic novel style, they were able to achieve a visually and emotionally stimulating piece of art.

Bradshaw, P. (2008) Persepolis At: Accessed on: 9/3/2017
Ebert, R. (2008) Persepolis At: Accessed on: 9/3/2017
Schager, N. (2007) Persepolis At: Accessed on: 9/3/2017
Scott, A.O. (2007) In a Flat World, a Rebel With a Cause At: Accessed on: 9/3/2017

Illustration List:
Figure 1. Persepolis [Poster] At: Accessed on: 9/3/2017
Figure 2. War [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 9/3/2017
Figure 3. Marjane Satrapi [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 9/3/2017

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