Sunday, 7 September 2008
It's a good time to be pretentious in the world of comic books. The literary crowd have (finally) embraced "graphic novels" as being the equal of ordinary prose - at least in theory - and the format is still new enough (at least as far as the literary crowd is concerned) to make even so-so projects seem cutting edge. And they have pictures, which is a big plus. So it's not all that surprising that Persepolis made a bit of a splash when it came out a few years ago. The story of a young Iranian woman growing up in the wake of the overthrow of The Shah, it also managed to tick various boxes marked "serious" and "worthy" and - perhaps most important of all post-9/11 when it comes to being marketed towards a western literary crowd looking to understand a people their right-wing leaders were demonising - "middle eastern". Unfortunately, as a biography (and author Marjane Satrapi has said from the start she tweaked some of the facts, though the central character bears her name) it was more down the "informative" than the "insightful" end of the scale. And apart from the fact that the pictures now move, not much has changed with this animated film: characters are thinly developed, the lead is passive and the tone throughout keeps events at a distance, making this a story that all too often feels obviously "told" rather than experienced. That wouldn't matter much if the story was told with flair, but the animation is basic and the pictures lifeless, resulting in a film that gets by because of the novelty of its setting rather than any real artistic achievement. Still, it's an animated film based on a graphic novel about growing up as a woman in a fundamentalist Muslim regime: you can't get more arthouse cred than that.
Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #435)