More than just black and white

Since Sept. 11, the Middle East has been brought to the forefront of U.S. citizens’ minds. Not until the past two or three years, though, have many filmmakers really begun to focus their talents on addressing issues relating to that part of the world.

American directors’ recent film offerings on this front have been lackluster, from the expository bore "Lions for Lambs," to the MTV-does-Iraq style of "The Kingdom," and the inspirational yet watered down movie adaptation of "The Kite Runner." In contrast, foreign directors have shown a great aptitude for making perceptive and illuminating movies about the conflicts in the Middle East, with movies such as "The Syrian Bride," "Paradise Now," and now the animated "Persepolis."

Based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, who also co-wrote and co-directed the film with Vincent Paronnaud, "Persepolis" is an engrossing tale of a young woman facing the trials of adolescence and adulthood against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution.

The movie begins with an adult Satrapi waiting in an airport for a cab. As she waits, she looks back and reminisces over her life that began as a Western-culture-obsessed child of Iran and brought her all the way to the dingy airport where she now sits.

Viewers don’t get much of a background on this adult Satrapi before being thrust straight into the action with the charming, 8-year-old Marjane with whom they will stay for the next 95 minutes as she grows up, moves to Europe, then moves back home to Iran.

The graphic novel, upon which film is based, was a simple, black and white affair that used its textures to powerfully convey the emotions and themes of an Iran in the middle of a revolution. The film, which is also principally in black and white, takes this same simplistic style and thankfully does not duplicate it, instead morphing it into a style that is entirely unique.

Whereas the graphic novel told the story entirely in blacks and whites, the film version adds some shades of gray and plays around with the whole scheme effortlessly to gorgeous, captivating effect. For example, a scene where Marjane is accosted by a couple of older Muslim women for wearing clothes that are too Western is cleverly drawn to picture them as attacking serpents.

The story is told through the eyes of Satrapi, functioning simultaneously as a biography and, more interestingly, as an indictment of Westerners’ prejudices about the Middle East.

Many audience members may enter the film with false impressions about what a Muslim woman is like. Satrapi effectively banishes those impressions as she gives the audience an accurate and honest picture of her life while never making the mistake of claiming that all Muslim women have led the same existence. It’s a beautiful, sensitive portrayal of Iran and a compelling story of exile and hardship.

Unfortunately, the short length of the movie doesn’t give viewers as much time as they will want with Satrapi. Several of her friendships and relationships seem cast aside in favor of moving the film along at a brisk pace, and these parts almost leave the viewer with a feeling of being cheated. It would be nice to walk through Satrapi’s life as opposed to running through it. This is a minor flaw, though, as this film is not so much about Satrapi’s friends as it is about her, and her character still shines brightly.

"Persepolis," is a faithful and elegant interpretation of the graphic novel, and its graceful animation combined with the culturally insightful storyline serves as a potent and instructive tale to Westerners. In a time when every other news item seems to be relating to the Middle East, the importance of "Persepolis" should not be shrugged off.

Plot: A-

Animation: A+

Character Development: A-

Overall: A

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Title: More than just black and white | Author: Brandon Sullivan | Section: Features | Published Date: 2008-01-30 | Internal ID: 6251