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Moving Persepolis an animated marvel
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer


Marjane is young, opinionated, intelligent and fearless, which would all be well and good save for the fact she is growing up in Iran during the height of the Islamic Revolution. Through her, we see hopes dashed, dreams crushed and freedoms slowly devolve, especially for women. Yet she soldiers on, outsmarting the guardians of social morality while discovering the wonders of punk rock, ABBA and Iron Maiden.

Over the next decade Marjane's parents will send her abroad for her own safety. In Austria she endures all the usual teenage ordeals all with the added pressure of being an outsider new to the country. More, she also becomes a symbol of the ongoing fundamentalist power-grab going on in her homeland for some people, trying to face them down as best she can while still remaining true to her uniquely idiosyncratic identity.

At the age of 24, and after a love affair goes heartbreakingly bad, Marjane returns to the country she loves but now no longer recognizes. Forced behind a veil, the woman attends university with ambitions of becoming an artist. While there, she continues to speak out against the hypocrisy she sees around her each and every day, over time coming to the realization she must leave the homeland she adores if she is ever going to be allowed to live the life she wants.

Beautiful and heartbreaking, Persepolis is a sublime achievement worthy of applause. Sweet yet not saccharine, sentimental yet not cliché, heartbreaking yet not banal, this is a movie that stays with you long after you walk outside the theater. Marjane's journey is both vital and unique, yet still carries an affectionate familiarity which felt as genuine as my very own; It was like I knew this girl, had lived within her skin, the girl's ultimate decisions ones I couldn't help but feel as if I would end up making, too.

Of course, the world I lived in over on good old Spokane, WA, is light years away from the one she is experiencing in Iran. The cavalcade of horrors she and her family faces are almost unfathomable (and would probably be comedic if they weren't so sickening), which makes watching Marjane doing so with so ferocious a tenacity all the more wonderful. She is so appealing, so full of the typical vagaries of youth and young adulthood that this strange world (at least to the majority of us here in the United States) becomes immediately identifiable. She's a strong heroine, one not without her foibles and flaws, and by the time all was said and done I couldn't help but feel intimately connected to her.

Some will be a bit put off by the somewhat leisurely pace of the film. Others will have issues with the Salvador-Dali-meets-Max-Fleisher (with some of the whimsical meanderings similar to The Triplets of Belleville thrown in for good measure) style of animation. Even more people will be left unhappy with the story's open-ended finale, which leaves the future for the main character somewhat up in the air.

To all of them I say open your minds, broaden your horizons and let the full impact of what directors Vincent Paronnaud (making his feature animation debut) and Marjane Satrapi (upon whose graphic novels the film is based) are trying to accomplish sink in. The duo put a face to a culture often marginalized by fear and misunderstanding, going behind the veil (if you'll pardon the pun) to give us a glimpse of what life is like in a society where freedom to be who you want slowly becomes a thing much like a forgotten fairy tale.

There is a little bit of a controversy right now in regards to the recent Oscar nominations and this motion picture. While Persepolis finds itself up against Ratatouille and Surf's Up in the Best Animated Feature category, it did not make the short list of nine potential nominees for the Best Foreign Film category (along with the equally stunning Romanian drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days).

Having not seen any of the films now nominated for the Oscar I cannot talk of their quality. What I can say is, had I seen these 2007 films last year and not this one they both would have been in my top ten of the year. Make of that what you will.

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