Revolution for the Holidays

Just to give you a taste of all the post-holiday festivities I'm enjoying as I write this: La Guardia airport, Gate B3 awaiting news of our flight which has just been indefinitely cancelled due to snow in Wisconsin. Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport has stopped accepting any incoming flights. It is just about as good as it gets here.

But I wanted to tell you about a really excellent movie I saw last night. Movies are pretty much the best possible thing you can do around after Christmas when you're full of leftovers and sick of talking to your family. In a small break from family togetherness, I actually went to see this movie with my friend Jacob in New York City. It was an animated feature, called Persepolis. Gosh it was good.

The film was a movie adaptation of a successful comic strip of the same name, named one of the Best Comics by Time Magazine in 2003. It is written by an Iranian woman named Marjane Satrapi, about her own experience growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. A captivating heroine, she is brave and idealistic as a young girl, the only child of committed Marxists and a descendant of one of Iran's last emperors. Her personal history is uniquely intertwined with the movements in her country, and the strip follows her discovery of Iran's volatile political climate and cultural transformation. I will also confess that the main character's interest in punk rock and heavy metal were a definite bonus.

© 2007 Sony Pictures Classics.

Visually, the animation and original illustrations are very simple. Black and white characters in a sometimes dreamlike, abstract setting. Satrapi explains this choice, "I think this helped everybody to relate to it, whether in China, Israel, Chile, or Korea, it's a universal story. Persepolis has dreamlike moments, the drawings help us to maintain cohesion and consistency." The movie translates the intense political spirit of its author and the intensity of her childhood reality, while maintaining decidedly humanist emotion and even humor. This hybridity is rare in films of this nature, and undoubtedly the animation is largely responsible.

I admit that I don't know enough about Iranian history and politics as I should. After four years in a liberal arts college, where I studied international politics even, I can't say I know very much about the country, whose importance in the current global arena grows daily. The film never once punished me for my ignorance on its basic premise, but only encouraged me to learn more. In my opinion, this quality of teaching an audience without the aid of pretense is too rare in intellectual and art films. This film, with the exception of some drug and sex references, would be easily understood by almost any audience. (It does employ subtitles from the original French, so I suppose you do need to be able to read.)

Too, the film does not come across as defeatist or angry or depressing. In large part the film celebrates Iran as it once was and hopes to be again. The Nobel Peace Prize winner and lawyer, Shrini Ehadi described the Islamic Revolution and its aftermath as an "accident of history." And Persepolis certainly holds high this hope for the future.

The author's ability to produce her comic and this film is wholly conditional on her current residence in France. Reading some of the publicity for the film, I found this quote from Marjane when asked if she misses Iran:

Of course. It's my homeland and always will be. If I were a man, I'd say France is my wife, but Iran is my first love and will always linger with me. Obviously, I can't forget all those years when I'd wake up with a view of an 18,700-foot high, snowcovered mountain that dominated Tehran and my life… It's hard to think that I'll never be able to see it anymore. I miss it. Then again, I have the life I wanted. I live in Paris, which is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with the man I love, doing the job I like - plus, I get paid to do what I like to do. Out of respect for those who have stayed there, who share my ideas but cannot express them, I'd find it inappropriate and distasteful to be complaining. If I had given in to despair, everything would have been lost. So up until the last moment, I'll hold my head high and keep laughing because they won't get the best of me. As long as you're alive you can protest and shout, yet laughter is the most subversive weapon of all.

You have to see this movie.

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