Category Archives: 2007 Movies
The haunted house spook sub-genre has mostly delivered fairly pedestrian results (Oh no, it’s only a cat), but let The Orphanage stand as undeniable proof that with patience and talent the haunted house can still be scary as hell. The film takes its time to establish a truly unnerving atmosphere where even genre clichés like creepy kids in creepy masks become compelling and scary. The haunted house usually revolves around some form of a mystery, and The Orphanage is able to tap out an interesting tale that provides plenty of emotional depth. The mystery unravels at a nice pace and the film grows in intensity and dread. Plus, the movie doesn’t spell out everything and respects the viewer’s intelligence. Invariably, this film will be compared to The Others, another superior chiller also from a Spanish filmmaker, especially given the conclusions reached by the end. But debut director Juan Antonio Bayona certainly makes a strong impression with his subtlety and ability to transform conventional creaks and surprises into effective thrills. I’d be happy to sit through more haunted houses if they were all as good as The Orphanage.
Nate’s Grade: A-
What happened here? Director Terry George was coming off of 2004’s stirring Hotel Rwanda, he had A-list talent like Mark Ruffalo, Joaquin Phoenix, Jennifer Connelly and the results end up feeling like a parody of awards-hungry prestige films steeped in grief and set in suburbia. To be fair, the acting is mostly respectable even if the characters start yelling a majority of their lines. The film moves at an absurdly swift pace that doesn’t allow much time for the actors to react reflectively about grief and guilt. The movie is kept afloat by some contrived coincidences, like Ruffalo’s lawyer being hired by Phoenix to find the culprit responsible for the hit and run that killed his son (surprise, it was Ruffalo behind the wheel!). Reservation Road doesn’t dwell too long on the plot setups it crafts and stumbles into a sudden and convenient epiphany by Phoenix. The conclusion is neither satisfying nor emotionally grueling, and the movie just kind of ends abruptly with little resolved, crushed under the weight of failed pretensions. This movie wants to dig deep and say Big Things about the human condition but it’s hard to do when you’re as emotionally inert and dramatically flaccid as Reservation Road. Seriously, what happened here?
Nate’s Grade: C
Just like he did in 2005’s excellent documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, filmmaker Alex Gibney is able to distill a complex topic into a coherent argument. His Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side looks deep into the repugnant state of justice after 9/11 and the Bush Administration’s disregard for the law. It’s decidedly uncomfortable and upsetting, but Gibney’s film should be essential viewing for everyone to fully understand what questionable lessons we are sending out to the world under the guise of winning the indefinite War on Terror.
In late 2002, Dilawar drove two passengers out of town in his taxi. He was stopped at an Afghan militia checkpoint and he and his passengers were turned over to the U.S. military. The Afghan militia leader accused the trio of being responsible for rocket attacks against U.S. forces (In reality, the militia leader was responsible and just turning over innocent men to make inroads with military personnel). Dilawar was sent to Bagram prison where he was subjected to sleep deprivation, physical abuse, and made to stand for hours on end handcuffed to the ceiling. He died after two days in custody. The military coroner ruled that Dilawar’s death was a homicide. The report was swept under the rug until a New York Times journalist went searching for answers. The official who instigated the “interrogation techniques” was rewarded and sent to teach her harsh brand of degrading interrogation to another prison – Abu Ghraib. I think we all know how well that turned out.
Like No End in Sight, which Gibney also produced, the film benefits enormously by staying away from brash finger pointing and hysterics. It slowly assembles its methodical case using hard evidence, like the prison coroner’s report and declassified memos, and a bevy of interviews from the people who were on the frontlines and behind the scenes in Washington. Gibney builds a devastating case that left me sick to my stomach and overwhelmed with the urge to weep. Taxi to the Dark Side is a powerful and masterfully assembled indictment on how far the United States of America has slid from its moral high ground. I felt sorry for the numerous innocent men plucked from their homes and tortured. I felt sorry for the soldiers being pressured to get results fast and through whatever creative means only to be turned into patsies by a government looking to pin “a few bad apples.” I felt intense shame in my own government condoning degrading and humiliating practices that stretch the legal definition of torture. And I felt burning anger at the realization that President Bush had tucked away a little provision in a bill signed into law that stated no officials in his administration could be tried for war crimes. The soldiers on the ground who followed orders set out by those officials, however, were fair game. Bush pardoned himself!
Gibney uses Dilawar’s story as a framing device that broadens the scope of the film. He explores the whole nature of torture and the questionable tactics our government and military have engaged in since 9/11 in the name of keeping the country safe. But as the film continues on we still remember Dilawar. His death casts a pall that hangs over the entire running time that serves as a potent rejoinder to any interview clip or TV segment where officials dismiss the severity of torture techniques (Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld scribbled on one memo complaining that he stands many hours a day, so how could this be torture?). Thankfully, the film also comes back to Dilawar during the closing moments to draw out the man’s humanity and shine a closer look at the personal cost of such illegal practices. It’s sad and shocking that well over 90 percent of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and U.S. coalition prisons were turned in by locals for money. Who knows however many innocent men like Dilawar are imprisoned without any path to see a court (recent Supreme Court rulings have said that detainees do have a right to contest their imprisonment in U.S. courts).
What is all too evident is that Bush administration officials were establishing a hazy and vague definition of torture on purpose. This of course had the benefit of not linking their names to illegal practices that could lead to war crimes. This also made sure there was no set guideline for interrogation and detention. Without any guidelines and rules the soldiers were expected to get results with no oversight. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that being isolated in a foreign country and surrounded by a culture of machismo is going to breed cruelty if there is no enforcement of law. The U.S. skirted the Geneva Conventions by denying suspects any rights and saying they could be detained, without charge, for the rest of their lives. Vice President Cheney proudly declares that the enemy plays dirty and therefore America has to resort to the same dirty tactics. One soldier recounts a mentally handicapped prisoner who officials kept swearing was just putting on an act. “This is the new cover for al-Qaeda,” they were told even as the man ate his own feces. I’m sorry, but my country should be morally above whomever we deem an enemy. The “he started it” defense does not register for me.
But perhaps the biggest non moral related sticking point is that torture is notorious for not generating factual claims. When someone is being tortured they will say whatever to make the situation cease, and this includes fabricating tales about terrorists and an Iraq link to 9/11. Instead of verifying and corroborating these confessions, the interrogators jot them down as fact, send them to the brass above, and that’s how the U.S. produced sources that said Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Ladin share a friendship bracelet and have brunch on Tuesdays. Even if you do not object to torture on moral grounds, and I pity you if you cannot, then a thinking person should at least object to torture on the very basis that it does not work. It produces bad intelligence, false intelligence, and in a rush to conflict that can yield terrible and far-reaching ramifications (six years in Iraq and counting, insurgent recruitment rising, the erosion of the U.S.’s standing over the world). The ends clearly do not even approach justifying the means.
After detainee abuses, President Bush declared to TV reporters that, “The United States doesn’t torture.” The asterisk to that declaration is that the U.S. rejects the internationally agreed upon definition of torture and will decide what constitutes torture, and even then we’ll just outsource it to countries that will torture. Taxi to the Dark Side is a sobering and powerful film that will serve as an important reminder for generations to come about the damning evidence of torture. The film is presented with clam and precise logic but it still manages to eradicate any argument that torture is acceptable under the right circumstances (advocates like to cite the idea of a ticking bomb and a suspect who knows the location). One interview says it all. He’s an FBI interrogator for over 20 years, and he says that to glean workable intelligence you don’t beat someone and make them fear you; you make them like you. You play “good cop” not “insane cop,” and you will gather actionable, verifiable, helpful intelligence and you have nothing to feel guilty over. If only the current administration had more men with such clarity and moral fiber.
Nate’s Grade: A
Am I too cynical for my own good? I’d like to think that I appreciate authentic works that tug at my heartstrings, and I’m a believer in the power that music can have, which are part of the reasons I named Once the best film of 2007. In comparison, August Rush tries to go all message and winds up skirting over why I should even care what happens to its characters.
In 1994 or so Lyla (Keri Russell) is a concert cellist in New York City. Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is the lead singer in a rock band touring the area. They meet atop a rooftop, look deeply into each other’s eyes, and then have sex. Parents, do not condone this behavior with your daughters and sons. But they’re separated through lame circumstances and nearly miss each other several times. This romantic encounter has spawned a son growing in Lyla’s womb. She gets into a car accident late in the pregnancy and was told by her manager/father tells her the baby has passed away. He is a liar because the baby was born and he signed it up for adoption.
Flash forward 11 years. The child has gown up into the likes of Evan (Freddie Highmore) who lives in a boarding school for orphan boys. He knows his parents are out there in the world somewhere and he believe he can find them through the connection music. He gets lost in New York City and follows a troop of child musicians to the Wizard (Robin Williams). He looks after a gathering of orphan musicians that play on street corners. It’s like Oliver Twist meets American Idol with an extra dose of sugar. Sure enough Evan stars drawing a crowd and the Wizard wants to make sure he doesn’t lose his biggest earner.
This film is a ludicrous and manipulatively maudlin mess. August Rush plays all the big notes; the film’s script is entirely comprised of big moments that waddle and crash into one another, and as such it ignores any details. Like the fact that Evan has the ability to connect to his long-lost parents simply by strumming an instrument, but he’s never heard of musical notes or touched an instrument until he was 11. If the kid hears music everywhere, which reminded me a lot of Bjork in the superior Dancer in the Dark, wouldn’t it stand to reason he would try to, I don’t know, play music? Now I’m not saying he’d have access to every musical instrument at the boy’s boarding house but surely he could have drummed something? I find it unbelievable that a musical prodigy would wait until he was 11 before he picked up an instrument. Also, he learns what sounds are labeled as what letter notes by a cherubic little tyke with some powerful pipes of her own. He goes immediately from learning what an F sharp is to scribbling complex musical notation on blank sheets of music stanzas. How does he know all the symbols and placements and everything that the little girl did not teach him in their brief instructional moment? I’ll go back even further. How come Lyla and Louis give up trying to find each other so easily? Why does Louis wait 11 years before he searches the Internet for Lyla, who, being a world-class cellist, would not exactly be low profile? And why does a pregnant Lyla not do more to, you know, get in contact with her child’s father when he’s even in the exact same city? It’s details like these that August Rush hopes to will the audience to ignore, but to me it was proof time and again that the film’s indifference to plot, character, and maintaining any level of credibility even on a heightened “urban fairy tale” level.
If you replaced the stars then this movie would prove to the world that it belongs on the Lifetime TV network. It’s a melodramatic free-for-all that turns the topic of music into a quasi-religious experience. Now I know for many that music actually can maintain a religious level of power and sweep, but I challenge people watching August Rush to replace the word “music” in the dialogue with any other word to fully realize how cheesy the dialogue is. Let’s try replacing “music with “the force,” and now read this choice line of dialogue: “You know what [the force] is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, every where, even the stars.” And: “[The force] is all around you, all you have to do is listen.” This is the kind of film where characters can look up into the void with wistful, wide-eyed looks and somehow connect over the ether. That’s how the characters stay together and eventually reunite in a predictable and sappy manner.
The music itself is rather unremarkable. It’s well composed but I wouldn’t be able to recall it again even if I had a gun to my head. When the movie trumps the message of the transcendent power of music it doesn’t help when the music it presents is less than special.
The acting befits the same cheesy atmosphere of the movie. Highmore is pretty vacant and looks like he’s shrugging from scene to scene, that is, until he bangs his hands against a guitar neck and everyone somehow calls this genius. I think part of Highmore’s problem is that regular folks just think that honest-to-goodness geniuses don’t really have to work hard for results. This is, of course, false. Mozart was a prodigy, yes, but he didn’t just yawn and write down invisible notes that were dancing in front of his eyes waiting all day to be transcribed. He worked hard. Highmore just looks off into the distance and he seems to be in a trance. It’s annoying.
Russell gets to pine for something just outside her reach (turns out it’s a son) but she doesn’t flash an iota of the grace and magic she showcased in Waitress. Meyers gets to “sell out” and then reunite his mid 90s alternative rock band. Here’s the thing — the sound EXACTLY THE SAME after 12 years and yet on their first gig back together they have a huge crowd? The movie is trying to tell me that the tastes of pop culture wouldn’t change in a dozen years. Williams manages to give hints about a troubled past as a musical prodigy eaten up by a system hungry for the next big thing. He also bellows and growls and comes across like a creepy Fagan for a team of street urchins.
August Rush is sticky, sappy, manipulative and maudlin feel-good rubbish. This is the kind of movie that most people will probably never get. Perhaps people who live, breathe, sleep, and eat music will feel more inspired by its message of human connection and spiritual fulfillment via the power of music. That’s swell but it still doesn’t excuse the fact that August Rush is a overly serious, laughable, syrupy work. If you’re going to dismiss its faults as the film being a “fairy tale” well then the film still doesn’t establish any hard rules for its universe. The characters are still one-note and behave in annoying and moronic ways because the plot demands it of them. And classifying the film as a fairy tale still doesn’t make the music any better. I can’t believe this stuff had a shot of beating the spectacular songs from Once for 2007’s Best Song Oscar. In fact, August Rush wishes it was Once because that low-budget charmer was able to communicate the power of music honestly and profoundly with the added benefit of beautiful tunes. I would like to recommend that all people thinking about renting August Rush.
Nate’s Grade: C-
The Oscar-winner for 2007 foreign film is certainly a fine film and a respectable winner, but let’s be honest, the foreign film category was watered down a tad. France nominated Persepolis over The Diving Bell and the Butterfly because a country is only allowed to nominate a single film (sucks to be you, countries with good movies). This rule has resulted in past incidents like Spain nominating Tuesdays in the Sun over Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her, which ended up winning the 2002 Best Original Screenplay Oscar despite Spain’s snub. The hard decision by France was moot because Persepolis didn’t make the Academy 2007 shortlist of nine nominees. The biggest snub from that shortlist was Romania’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, a harrowing film about two college-aged women seeking an illegal abortion in 1980s communist Romania. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and also won the Best Picture award by the European Film Awards (Austria’s The Counterfeiters wasn’t even nominated). Then there was Israel’s amusing and touching film, The Band’s Visit, about an Egyptian band that takes a wrong bus and finds itself in an Israeli town. But the Academy’s foreign films ruled that The Band’s Visit had too much spoken English and therefore could not be ruled as a foreign film. Also left out were Germany’s Edge of Heaven and Spain’s The Orphanage. Nothing against The Counterfeiters but the foreign language field had already snubbed most of the main contenders.
The Counterfeiters is a deeply fascinating true-story about the world’s largest counterfeiting ring. Sal Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics, with a face as hard as flint) is a master forger leading a life of luxury in Berlin until the police capture him and send him to a concentration camp with his fellow Jews. As World War II carries on, the Nazis recruit Sal to lead a team to forge the British pound and the American dollar. The Nazis hope to destabilize their enemies’ economies. Sal is given greater freedoms in the camp and the S.S. officers try to become his chums. But he has to ask himself what his cost his actions will have. He could be prolonging the conflict and actually helping Germany win, but if he doesn’t assist the Nazis then he will surely be murdered as will his team.
Write/director Stefan Ruzowitzky creates great tension from scene to scene but it is the moral dilemmas that stick. What are principles worth? Are they worth dying for? Are they worth endangering others’ lives? The movie takes a docu-drama approach with bobbing handheld camerawork; even the film stock looks like it was soaked in grime for authenticity. And yet I wish The Counterfeiters had chosen to be less enigmatic. The main character is a criminal that keeps his emotions close to the vest, but Ruzowitzky cheats the audience by keeping Sal mostly in his head. The story is filled with factual intrigue and the natural tension given the situation, but after it’s over there isn’t much that’s memorable for a genre that expects more of itself. The Holocaust genre (and let’s not kid ourselves, it is a genre at this point) has some pretty high dramatic expectations and produces films that sear into our brains. The Counterfeiters is a very well told tale with great acting and some interesting character relationships but it can’t fully measure up to other Holocaust parables.
Nate’s Grade: B+
I’m starting to think Wes Anderson may become his own worst enemy. The man seems trapped in his precious, idiosyncratic style that revolves around intricate, dollhouse-style production design, slow-motion and simple pan shots, clever-to-smug characters, family dysfunction that coalesces somewhat by the end, and a soundtrack full of hip, retro songs. I like Wes Anderson; I loved his first three films, was rather lukewarm on 2004’s Life Aquatic, but The Darjeeling Limited is pretty much a bland rehash of the same. Instead of a father reconnecting with his long-forgotten son it’s three brothers reconnecting in the wake of their father’s death and mother’s abandonment. The humor is fairly subdued and while the movie is brief it seems to run out of gas early on and get repetitive. I think Anderson is more interested in showing off his highly elaborate production design than crafting interesting things for his characters to do inside those complex sets. I didn’t feel a blip of emotion for any of the character, all of who have some lasting fear of women ever since their mother ran out to become a nun. There’s kind of an unsettling misogynistic vibe in the movie against women, which is an unfortunate surprise. There’s a spiritual quest that some may relate to but I found it superficial at best, intended to gloss over the plot holes and character miscues. I wish Anderson well, but his next venture behind the camera might work better if he threw out his fraying filmmaker playbook.
Nate’s Grade: C+
This is a harrowing, haunting, beautiful, mesmerizing movie that is easily one of the best films of 2007. Casey Affleck is an acting revelation as Robert Ford, the man who worshipped Jesse James and obsessed over him before eventually turning sour and killing his hero. This languid Western, paced at 2 hours and 40 minutes, establishes a mood of gnawing paranoia as the law closes in and Jesse suspects his gang members will betray him. The day-to-day worry and dread of a life of crime really translates, and Jesse James proves an intelligent, unstable leader to mix the pot. The movie builds slowly but the tension grows unbearable and puts knots in your stomach. The acting is outstanding all around, and Brad Pitt proves a great choice for a 19th century American icon weary of his legendary status. The movie presents a fascinating peek into Jesse James’s gang and presents a wealth of historical information, none more intriguing than when the public turned on Robert Ford for terminating one of American’s folk legends. The narration provides sharp, illuminating details in brief expository scenes, and thanks to Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography, Jesse James is an authentic period picture that is a marvel to view. I was awed by this artistic achievement that still resonates with me long after I finished watching. This film simply envelops you.
Nate’s Grade: A
The fourth remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a more interesting behind-the-scenes story than as a film. German director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) created a movie that was described as more psychological thriller than action chase movie. The studio and producers scrapped many pieces of the film, hired the Wachowski brothers to rewrite portions of the story and cram in some action, and then James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) directed the reshoots. As a result, the movie is wildly displaced and hacked together and never feels whole. There’s a slow burn of intrigue and mob madness and paranoia that gives way to chase scenes, car wrecks, and a ridiculously contrived happy ending. I’m sorry, but when you do The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, you cannot have humanity win; that destroys the entire point of the story. It’s like having King Kong climb the Empire State Building and deciding to live there and dance for peanuts. Nicole Kidman and her lithe frame seem like an odd choice as humanity’s last hope with a gun. The Invasion flirts with some philosophical ideas about free will, assimilation, and the cost of peace, but then it speeds headfirst into an abrupt finish. This movie is unsatisfying to all parties.
Nate’s Grade: C
Undeniably well made, I just couldn’t emotionally connect with the main character, Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirch). Chris turns his back on his affluent parents and his bourgeois lifestyle and heads off into the wilderness to experience nature and find what has been missing in his life. Director/screen adaptor Sean Penn turns Chris into a Jesus-like figure that touches all those who he encounters on his cross-country tour that will meet its end in Alaska. I found the character treatment to be a tad naive and off-putting, and his lack of communication with his family, especially his younger sister who was in the same boat with him, seems especially cruel. And yet, the movie has its share of transcendent moments that bury themselves deep inside you, like when Chris befriends an 80-year-old widower (Oscar nominee Hal Holbrook) who is given new life. The closing moments, when Chris has accepted is fate, is profoundly moving and exceptionally performed, and this is coming from a guy that felt an emotional disconnect from the main character. Into the Wild is lovely to watch with top-notch cinematography, a fabulous score by Eddie Vedder, and fine acting by a diverse cast. I’m very impressed by what Penn has accomplished here. However, I admire the movie more than I can embrace it, and it all goes back to the character of Chris. He’s a mystery and both romantic and frustrating, which is kind of a fit summation for the movie.
Nate’s Grade: B
Marjane Satrapi has, by all accounts, a very unique life. Growing up under the repression of the Islamic Revolution, she settled in France and created a series of acclaimed best-selling graphic novels called Persepolis, based upon her life growing up in and out of Iran. The movie was France’s official entry for the 2007 Foreign Language Oscar, bypassing the equally lauded and inventive Diving Bell and the Butterfly. And yet Persepolis did not even make the short list of nine nominees, which eventually gets parred down to five (neither did 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, which WON the Best Film from the European Film Awards, over other movies that managed to make the Academy’s five nominees). I consider this a glaring omission. How could anyone not be entranced by Satrapi and co-director Vincent Paronnaud’s masterwork?
In Tehran, the capital of Iran, young Marjane and her family watch as rebellious forces overthrow the Shah in 1979. The Shah was the ruler of Iran and could readily be described as a dictator. He was friendly to Western countries and wanted Iran to follow their lead. Large forces unified and deposed the Shah, setting the stage for Iran to have its own system of rule that the people would decide upon. Marjane’s father swings her around in his arms and excitedly proclaims that democracy has come to his country at last. Landslide numbers “vote” for radical Islamic leaders to take control of the government, and Iran becomes a militant theocracy. Privileges and reforms are revoked, and women will have to wear long burquas and veils to be righteous. Marjane is too outspoken and her parents, fearing for her safety, send her to Europe to be educated. While she is absent Iraq attacks Iran and the countries are engulfed in a decade-long border war.
Persepolis is a gem of a movie, at once a personal coming-of-age account that manages to be fascinating and honest and also a universal tale of struggle for cultural identity. The evocative black and white animation is a joy to watch. The crisp drawing style manages to express so much with the seemingly simple, clean images. At times the visuals take on a lovely German expressionistic feel, and the world feels like it is made out of folded layers of paper. I would fall in love with a movement, a facial expression, that fact that smiles look like boomerangs, something small yet immeasurably enjoyable that struck a deep chord inside me. The arresting black and white visuals do not distract from the story in any way, in fact they help to mirror the repressive nature of what befalls Iran. A silhouetted group of protesters is shot at and one of them falls to the ground. Great inky blackness seeps out of the fallen body and merges with the rest of the screen, adding emotional heft that color could never capture.
Told for long stretches from the perspective of a child, Persepolis manages to find unique perceptions. The child point of view allows the film to unfold naturally with innocence and inquisitiveness, qualities that would soon be hard to recapture once the promise of revolution turned sour. Young Marjane feels jealous and competitive that her cousin can brag that her father spent more time as a political prisoner. It’s an odd stance for an adult and yet it feels entirely within reason for children. Marjane deals with issues she cannot fully understand as a child but she tries her best. The eyes of children also let the filmmakers mingle with the fantastic. Marjane speaks to God at points, and after a horrible tragedy God is trying to apologize and explain but little Marjane will not hear any of it. She orders God to leave her and so He departs. A little girl turning her back on God will hit you is the kind of devastating stuff that can put a permanent lump in your throat.
I was dumbfounded at the emotional depths the film plumbs in a scant 95 minutes. This is an incredibly powerful tale, richly told with poignant insights and grace. There were several times I was overcome with emotion and had to dab my eyes. Satrapi achieves great emotional resonance with minute details, making the film exciting in how engaging it continues to be from beginning to end. Marjane’s relationship with her family anchors the movie and you can feel the power of their love and bonds. Imprisoned uncles who spouted communist dogma are released only to be seen as a danger once again. Marjane’s mother is worried when Marjane keeps showing a fiery outspoken spirit. One day she shakes a teenage Marjane, screaming at her the horrid possibilities that can happen to women under this regime. She cites one teenage girl who was executed, but they don’t believe in killing virgins, so the guards took care of that bothersome roadblock. Marjane’s mother is wild-eyed with fear and what might await her little girl, and her gnawing concern is resoundingly powerful. Marjane’s grandmother serves as her emotional compass throughout her life. Grandma stresses that Marjane should be proud of her cultural identity and stay true to herself. When Marjane gets older she hears her grandmother’s voice to set her straight in times of doubt.
But while the movie can be heartwarming, it does not fall victim to sticky sentimentality. Satrapi deals with some harsh truths about life in Iran and also her time in Europe as a blossoming woman without a country. She doesn’t sugarcoat reality and Marjane’s parents make it a point to be up front with their daughter about what is happening; an uncle tells little Marjane, before he is executed, that knowledge must live on and she, the youth, must be the one to keep it alive. The Iran-Iraq war ends in a stalemate with millions in casualties. Persepolis details life behind the veil and the shift the country took to radical Islamic rule but the film isn’t all doom and gloom. There’s a natural curiosity about a story of a girl who becomes a woman in a repressive society. Marjane’s spiky rebellious spirit makes for genuinely human comedy. She shops for Iron Maiden tapes on the Iranian black market, wears a jacket that states, “Punk is not ded,” and screams with joy at ripping her veil off during a car ride and letting the wind gust through her hair. There is a bounty of humor to be found in unexpected places. Marjane is running to catch a bus and is stopped by two policemen who complain that when she runs her butt moves “in an obscene way.” She simmers and finally yells, “Then stop staring at my ass!”
If Persepolis has any shortcomings it’s that the narrative peaks a bit too early. Seeing a child come of age during the Islamic Revolution is generally more interesting than watching a teenager navigate unfaithful boyfriends in Europe. Persepolis never stops being entertaining or relevant, it just so happens that the greater emotional rewards are tied to life and family in Iran.
Persepolis is a marvelously moving and unique coming-of-age tale set against a unique time. Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels have fluidly been translated into a film that resonates with great emotional turmoil and inspiration. The alluring black and white visuals and clean animation style dazzle the eyes, while the enthralling personal story reaches deep inside and touches the heart. The film is brilliant, beautiful, harrowing, deeply human, fascinating, and ultimately inspiring. It’s rare to find a movie that can hit so many emotions with finesse, animated or live action. Persepolis is a bold vision and a revealing and lovely film that I cannot wait to revisit often. This is more than just a cartoon, folks. This is art.
Nate’s Grade: A