Although the nature of this project incurs some friendly competition, the heart of the blog was always about education. I wanted to learn more about the under-publicized, under-appreciated, and underrated women directors of the world, and I for one can say that I stumbled upon an actual iconic GEM when it comes to Marjane Satrapi. I vaguely remember seeing Persepolis a million years ago in high school and thinking for the first time, "Oh wow, cartoons can be for adults? And not just, like, The Simpsons?" (a show which, I must add, was forbidden in our Evangelical Christian household). The point is, I had no idea yet that a simple comic could be used to tell a powerful story. I thought they were just for the Sunday Funnies, or for doodling on the back of church programs during particularly long and monotonous services.
"People are so afraid to say the word 'comic'," she told the Guardian newspaper in 2011. "It makes you think of a grown man with pimples, a ponytail and a big belly. Change it to 'graphic novel' and that disappears. No: it's all comics."
Satrapi was raised in Tehran, Iran, by Marxist parents who were actively against the monarchy of the last Shah. She was only 10 years old when the Iranian Revolution happened in 1979, and her family began to experience the oppression of Muslim fundamentalism. Concerned for the safety of their precocious and outspoken young teenager, Satrapi's parents sent her to Vienna to attend school. After a brief stint (and failed young marriage) back in Tehran, she relocated to Paris, France, where she still lives today.
By the age of 30, she published her autobiographical comic books (NOT graphic novel, see above quote) for which she received global and critical acclaim. (Ironically, Chicago would later remove her books from schools because they believed them to be too "graphic and violent." HILARIOUS.) A few years later, Persepolis was adapted into a film, and a few years after that, her other successful comic book, Chicken with Plums, was also adapted for the screen.
Directed by: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud
Written by: Marjane Satrapi (comic), Vincent Paronnaud (scenario)
Starring: Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Simon Abkarian
IMDB Synopsis: A precocious and outspoken Iranian girl grows up during the Islamic Revolution.
Before I begin discussing this phenomenal and important film, I would like to take this moment to pay tribute to the significance of animation.
I know it's off-brand for me, but I won't rant. I will simply leave these pictures below, as a tribute to moments in recent animation that have Made Sarah Cry (a rarity). If my cold black heart can feel something from some squiggly lines and remote voice actors, then my god so can you. The takeaway: animation is powerful.
Still not convinced that a mostly black-and-white animated feature about a teenage girl during the Iranian Revolution entirely in French is for you? I suppose I can't blame you. After all, how could a story so niche and specific illicit any universal pang of affection?
How could simple black and white images evoke any deep or meaningful emotions, or properly grasp the devastation of war, death, pain, or loss?
How could a mere cartoon effectively communicate the childhood trauma of saying goodbye to your favorite uncle in prison, or hiding from bombs in the middle of the night?? Surely a simple comic couldn't capture - through the eyes of a child, no less! - the selfishness of humanity during war-time rationing or the moment one abandons God??!!
I MEAN LITERALLY, ONE CAN ONLY IMAGINE THAT NAUGHT BUT THE MIND OF AN UNCULTURED RUBE COULD BE TOUCHED BY THE ANIMATED ITERATION OF
the awkwardness of puberty, the joy of discovering punk rock, the shame of adolescence, the confusion of being a foreigner in a foreign land, the memory of precious conversations with a family member now gone, the crippling anguish of falling in love, realizing your friends are trash for the first time, rocking out alone in your room, the bitter and overwhelming loneliness of growing up anywhere, any time, at all, ever...
Or, perhaps most memorably, the devastation of a heartbreak, and the never-ending to journey to feel "normal" again...
...Perhaps I have made my point.
This film is as devastating as Chicken with Plums is whimsical (seriously, so much whimsy). Perhaps more so. There is something terribly poignant about the genuinely universal threads in Persepolis, and it is as enriching as it is heartbreaking to learn about a time in history not so long ago that affected so many people. This surviving artist is but one small mercy of that time, and her story is a goddamned international treasure.
Chicken with Plums (2011)
Directed by: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Written by: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Maria de Medeiros, Golshifteh Farahani, Edouard Baer, Isabella Rossellini
IMDB Synopsis: Since his beloved violin was broken, Nasser Ali Khan, one of the most renowned musicians of his day, has lost all taste for life. Finding no instrument worthy of replacing it, he decides to confine himself to bed to await death.
If Amelie and Jojo Rabbit had a baby, then forced that baby to read Nietsche and Camus, listen to Tom Waits records, chain smoke hand-rolled cigarettes, and develop a drinking and/or gambling problem, then you would have Chicken with Plums.
Essentially, a totally underrated and delightfully whimsical fairy tale complete with The Angel of Death, Isabella Rossellini's giant breasts, and a magical violin. Pair all this with nods to Coraline-esque animation and a devastating score, and it's honestly a shame that our delicate American palettes can't handle tragedy like the French do, because this movie should be right up there in the international cult-classic hall of fame.
I mean, come on! Humor, whimsy, AND melancholy?? THOSE ARE MY THREE FAVORITE MOVIE INGREDIENTS!!!
But alas, even I cannot escape my fragile American sensibilities, because the moment it ended and I shouted, "OH COME ON, WE GET IT, YOU'RE FRENCH, BUT JESUS CHRIST." It's really fucking sad, dude.
Perhaps the most tragic part of it all is how... mundane the tragedy is. A depressed musician in a loveless marriage loses the last thing that ever gave him pleasure on this earth - his violin - and he resigns himself to lay in bed and wait for death. We see his life for exactly what it is: a misunderstood and neglected wife, vulnerable children pining for a present father-figure, and a man who just can't heal from his own baggage long enough to get his shit together. As my theatre professor used to say, "Tragedy is breaking a nail; comedy is falling down a well and dying." In this, you get a bit of both.
If an anti-hero is the name of a protagonist who is also the villain, what do you call the man who is the protagonist but not at all heroic and also really, really depressing? I suppose I'll just call him The Violinist.
There are two ways to look at this film:
1) The Violinist spends the eight days before his totally preventable and actually kind of lazy suicide by lying in bed and whimsically moping over the past like a gigantic emotionally stunted baby, or
2) The Violinist, overwhelmed by the fragility of life and the inevitability of death, spends eight precious days reminiscing over every delicious detail of his better memories, savoring them as if they were his favorite last meal (CAN YOU GUESS WHAT THAT DISH IS?)
And both are true. His life was both epic and mundane, tragic and ordinary, plagued with heartbreaking loss and speckled with the daily struggles that every person endures. Just as yours and mine are. Only for The Violinist (and, luckily, for us), we get to experience this juxtaposition with the careful and brilliant hands of the magician, the weaver, the alchemist, Marjane Satrapi:
I don't know how many times I can safely use the word "whimsical" (that makes 7 if you count the photo from the trailer; I made them bold for your counting ease) without looking like a total hack, but this is seriously a film worth checking out. I can't gush enough about it because Persepolis was such a fucking BANGER and I don't want it to eclipse this remarkable little gem.
And the winner is...