October 15, 2007

NYFF. Persepolis.

David D'Arcy sings the praises of the film that's closed the festival. Pointers to other reviews follow; and there'll be more entries on more films as well as on the Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar over the next few days.


Persepolis [site] by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud won over the closing night audience of the 2007 New York Film Festival last night. Will an animated film based on a comic book in French by an Iranian woman win over the heartland of America ? Will it win the Oscars that its US distributors are hoping for?

Updated through 10/18.

Sony Pictures Classics already seems to have made one decision about taking its movie to an audience. According to Tom Bernard, who spoke after the film played at Avery Fisher Hall last night, Persepolis will not be released in the US in the dubbed version that already exists, with a cast that includes Sean Penn (big in France and in Iraq) and Iggy Pop. You heard it here first, although he could change his mind tomorrow. The dubbed Persepolis will be available when the film is released on DVD, Bernard said. Did Bernard and company decide that it wasn't worth releasing an English version of the film? No less of a salesman than Daniel Toscan du Plantier, the former head of Unifrance, tried to bring French films in English to Middle America with a version of Les Visiteurs dubbed under the direction of Mel Brooks, who does know something about making audiences laugh. The gambit failed, and it hasn't happened since.

Let's hope that the clever and tender Persepolis, already a crowd-pleaser in France, does reach the US heartland, or at least deep enough that Dick Cheney has a chance to see it. This is a crucial opportunity. The man from the Dark Side seems determined to leave his mark on history, possibly with an attack on Iran, especially if someone gives him the intel that indicates that a pre-emptive strike on the Islamic Republic would be a slam dunk. He believed it about Iraq. Why won't he believe it again?

I'm basing all this on the assumption that, with the departure of Karl Rove, Cheney is now Bush's brain. Seeing Persepolis might convince him that Iranians are not a separate species that can be scheduled for bombardment. The real achievement in Persepolis is that Satrapi and Parronaud have humanized Iranians through cartoons, at the same time that the Iranian president has been turned into a cartoon (with plenty of help from Ahmadinejad himself).

In Jonathan Demme's new documentary about Jimmy Carter, Man From Plains (also a Sony Picture Classics release), the former president is less than eloquent on many subjects, but he is clear and persuasive when he says that bombing Iran during the hostage crisis in 1980 would have cost many thousands of Iranian lives as well as the lives of the hostages that the attacks were presumably intended to save.

Another uncomfortable (inconvenient?) truth for Cheney when and if he ever sees Persepolis will be its repeated mention of the role of the US and other Western powers in the war between Iraq and Iran from 1980 to 1988. Back then, Saddam was our guy, and more than a million Iranians died in the war that he started. Satrapi isn't breaking any new ground by reminding us of that brutal war. She is breaking new ground, though, in her ambition (with Vincent Parronaud) to give animated characters real, grownup emotion. Cinema has tended to fail when it depicts the world of art in biopics about everyone from Jackson Pollock to Modigliani to Frida Kahlo. Satrapi says far more about art when she shows post-Revolution Iranian art classes in which students are painting the "anatomy" of models draped from head to toe, or when she draws the same students looking at reproductions of "nudes" with bodies obscured by the Islamic thought police.

In The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Julian Schnabel abandoned the world of painting once again to tell the story of an accident victim who has lost almost all control of his body - in French. The elegant film points to the likelihood that Schnabel could be admired more for his filmmaking than for his painting. Satrapi's case is something different. She doesn't seem to think independently of image-making. And her image-making makes you think. She is the first to say that she wouldn't be doing what she does without the influence of Art Spiegelman, who told his father's story of surviving Auschwitz in Maus. (Remember, Maus was turned down by more than a dozen publishers, including the publisher who eventually published it.)

Will Persepolis beget more of this kind of image-making? Dozens of comics are at least as cinematic as Persepolis. The forthcoming Wristcutters: A Love Story, is a live-action film adapted from a graphic novel. So was Ghost World. Keep them coming.

-David D'Arcy

"Lovingly detailed in its stark, layered and wonderfully expressive animation (at times reminiscent of Edward Gorey, with a little Yellow Submarine thrown in) and featuring the voices of Chiara Mastroianni and her mother Catherine Deneuve, Persepolis is history lesson, family drama, war story and young adult picaresque in one, handling its considerable dark elements with the same wary, worldly steady hand as the lighter ones," writes Michelle Orange at the Reeler. "Combined with Satrapi's endlessly inventive, expressive animations, Marjane becomes one of the most compelling, endearing heroines of the year, offering in two dimensions what many ingenues can't manage in three or four: genuine ingenuity."

"Persepolis pulls off something that's not easy for any film, even a live-action one, to do: It gives us a sense of how a kids'-eye view of the world - particularly the way kids are capable of grasping the idea of injustice, even when more delicate political arguments are beyond their reach - can emerge and grow into an adult sensibility," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek.

"[T]he movie is so enthralling that it eroded my longstanding resistance to animation, and I realized that the same history translated into a live-action drama could never be depicted with the clarity and narrative drive that bold, simple animation encourages," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times.

For Michael Joshua Rowin, writing at Reverse Shot, Persepolis, "despite its successes, feels ever so slight, the sort of product that, while not unintelligent, flatters its sophisticated but undemanding audience with the constant reassurance of tasteful propriety."

"Marjane Satrapi stole the show at the post-screening Q&A, talking to the crowd about her life and the projects it has inspired," reports Christopher Campbell for the Reeler.

Earlier: Reviews and previews from Toronto and NYFF; and reviews from Cannes.

Update, 10/18: "Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis made an enormous impression upon me," writes Marcy Dermansky. "Satrapiri's story is both extraordinarily moving and wildly informative. The gorgeous and faithful film adaptation... is no less remarkable."

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Posted by dwhudson at October 15, 2007 3:13 AM


As much as I share your fantasy that watching Persepolis might educate and inform Cheney's future decisions, I think what's probably more possible--if he should deign to watch the film--is that it will confirm his deepseated belief that Iranians are just cartoons.

For the rest of us it's a charming lesson in humanity.

Posted by: Maya at October 15, 2007 9:16 AM

I, too, loved PERSEPOLIS when I saw it opening night at Toronto. I taught both volumes (PERSEPOLIS & THE STORY OF A RETURN) in my Arts in a Multicultural Society course at UC Santa Cruz, so I didn't know what to expect. I wasn't disappointed. Satrapi's stroyline follows the graphic novels closely and the translation from text and stills to spoken-word and animation is thrilling. The film preserves her lethal irony and irresistible sense of humor. Brava, Marjane!

I'm not holding my breath that Cheney sees the film, but perhaps, if it reaches enough citizens and politicians (and university presidents!), another disgraceful war will be averted.

Posted by: Cathleen Rountree at October 15, 2007 12:55 PM