I read A. O. Smith's article in the NY Times a few days ago on what films to take your kids to. Refreshingly, he is of the opinion that many "adult" films are more challenging and interesting for kids (after parental judgment, of course, is exercised) than the majority of "kid's films." In fact, he quotes his daughter commenting on Enchanted as having "no surprises." I am inclined to agree.
Taking his advice, the D. and I went to see Persepolis (City of Persians), the story of an Iranian girl who grew up just before and during the Iranian revolution, an animated feature based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel, and directed by her and Vincent Paronnaud. [image:Marjane defies some traditions in "Persepolis." (Sony Pictures Classic)]
In French with English subtitles (note to those of a certain age, like me: don't sit too far, they're hard to read,) this is an engrossing and vividly portrayed story of Marjane, roughly between the ages of eight and twenty. She is born in pre-revolutionary Iran, with a politically active set of family and friends, many of whom who are Communists. And many of whom fall prey to the revolution's harsh policies. After one too many deaths, her parents send her to Vienna as a teenager, where she stays until a failed love affair depresses her enough to return to Iran --- quite a metaphor in itself, and unsentimentally portrayed.
Almost all in black-and-white (the few color shots are in Vienna or Paris,) the animation is stunning in its evocative imagery, using the figure-ground dichotomy to maximum advantage as images dissolve and coalesce from one to another. Nothing is particularly graphic, including the powerful imagery when Marjane notes that thousands of political prisoners were given a stark choice: vow allegiance to the regime or be executed; most were executed, she continues, as the white stylized heads of the black-and-white prisoners topple from their bodies.
The day-to-day incidents of life in Iran are chilling: Marjane, never one to toe the line, seems to invite trouble wherever she goes. Police watch her as she surreptitiously holds the hand of her lover; two busybody women assail her for wearing a T-shirt with a "Punk is not dead" slogan (little knowing that she has just bought a banned Iron Maiden CD;) armed police raid a party where the disaffected urban types she hangs out with are drinking and dancing (both illegal activities,) resulting in the death of one of her friends when he flees over the rooftops.
As a primer to Iran's recent tumultous history, particularly for kids, Persepolis has a lot going for it; while it is one person's viewpoint without any pretense of objectivity, it shows clearly the result of turning over a country to religious radicals. The level of control that the revolutionaries impose is total and stultifying. Noting that even playing cards are considered heretical, D. said "anything fun was banned, wasn't it?" Yes, and much more. Of the many contradictions shown, the women are forced to wear the chador, and have their rights curtailed but apparently still allowed to smoke in public.
A unique film. Sad and funny, emotion-laden but unsentimental, richly formatted yet simply-drawn and uncluttered.
And the implications of a state-sanctioned religiosity should particularly resonate as the Republicans consider nominating Mr. Huckabee, that most overtly religious of their candidates.