Thursday, May 1, 2008

Persepolis (Paronnaud/Satrapi)

Now here's an animated feature I can get behind. No Pixar anthropormorphic rodents for this movie. Hell, in Iran, they catch you talking to a rodent and they'll chop off the arms of one of your uncles.

You know, I take that back. Because actually, I've always been surprised by what I hear about Iran. I have met people who claim to have family there, and who have even visited, and they insist that the vast majority of Iranians want to be young and have a good time and watch American movies and get drunk and live exactly like the rest of us. In fact, a couple of years ago I heard of a survey gauging the popularity of the United States throughout the Middle East. The only country with a strongly favorable opinion of the United States, this survey concluded, was Iran, because since Iranians automatically distrust every single piece of information their government provides them, they believe the United States is wonderful and that George W. Bush is the greatest leader of our time. I suppose no one's informed them of this whole "Axis of Evil" business, but hey, let's keep it between you and me.

At any rate, Marjane Satrapi hit the jackpot with her life story, because not only did she have a crazy childhood, but she had a crazy Iran! I mean, all she needed to do was to hit all the key points and not make anything up and inject just the right amount of humor in there, and presto: the funny Iran movie with heart. It seems so easy, but I suppose in the wrong hands it could have gone dangerously awry.

In his review of The Squid and the Whale, A.O. Scott wrote, "Coming of age, with its attendant thrills and traumas (generally summarized under the headings school, sex and parents), is an inexhaustible subject because no two people go through it in exactly the same way." And I often ask myself if I could ever truly tire of the genre. Sometimes I am of the persuasion that if every suitably intelligent person simply sat down and wrote about his or her own childhood in a way that was clear-eyed and honest and free of sentimentality, I would be up for it. In some ways it is a mystery why more artists refrain from doing so. Maybe instead of trying to stretch and contort in order to generate some mind-blowingly original storyline (which nine times out of ten is full of cliches anyway), filmmakers could stick to the storyline than never fails: their own. Most likely it is because it's about as fun to think about as giving Madeleine Albright an enema. But perhaps there is more to this coming of age gig than merely having the guts to write about it, i.e, it helps to be from Iran.

It also helps to be able to draw. Persepolis solves the visual problem by having lots of pretty pictures with clean lines and arresting shapes rolling across the screen. In this age of generic cinematography I don't know why more movies don't go for the animated option. It is an easy way to make a film visually pleasing. I guess optical originality is not high on the priority list of the producers. Or when they do go for animation, they go for high-budget Pixar cheese. But I like the look of Persepolis more than I like the look of Ratatouille. Why is that? Ratatouille must have cost a lot more money to make. But the animation in Persepolis has personality and character. It feels unique, harder to come by. Any studio with Pixar's money, I feel, could animate like Pixar. But not any studio could animate like Satrapi, Paronnaud & co. And it makes me like their movie more.

"Film critic" rating: ****
"Little Earl" rating: ****


yoggoth said...

Was that Madeleine Albright line really necessary?

My understanding is that good animation is actually more difficult than good cheap conventional cinematography. It's also quite expensive unless your animators are working for low wages.

Little Earl said...

According to IMDB, the budget for Persepolis was $7.3 million. That seems pretty low to me. Also, keep in mind that money you're spending on animation is also money you're not spending on sets, props, lighting, wardrobe, etc.

As for Madeleine Albright, I'm sure she's a very nice person, but otherwise, she's a three-bagger, minimum.

yoggoth said...

Yes, but you could film a live action indie conversational for that as well. And which do you think has the greater chance of making its money back?

Herr Zrbo said...

How did you see this movie, it's not out on DVD yet, is it still in theaters?

Little Earl said...

Well, I went to this magical place they call the "movie theater" and I paid ten dollars and I sat in a big room with a bunch of other strange people and they showed the movie, but it wasn't on DVD! Weird, I know.

I saw it back in February. I think it hung around in the theaters for a long time but it's finally left. You'll just have to wait if you want to see it until it comes out on DVD!

ninquelote said...

Computer animation takes a lot longer than people think. The average animator may only produce three or for seconds of animation a day. If you had five animators, it would take them a little over nine months to finish their part. That doesn't necessarily include coloring and editing and all that kind of stuff. But I'm sure Pixar has more employees than that. I don't know how much they get paid, but I'm sure it's more than the greatest animator in Iran.

For the more rudimentary, and I agree interesting, animation in Persepolis, I would imagine it would take less time, and Iranian animators probably work for pretty rocks and the chance not to be whipped to death.

Little Earl said...

The film is actually French, but...hell, the French would probably work for less than the Iranians, now that I think about it.