Saturday, July 12, 2008

Watch now: Persepolis

Subject: Cinema
I pre-ordered the Blu-Ray release of Persepolis sight unseen, because I figured it would be good. I was wrong.

It was out. fucking. standing.

If all you've really watched in animation is anime, be prepared to be shocked by a true sense of depth, expression, and storytelling that you've probably rarely seen. As a long-time conneseur of animation, I was rapt with joy.

And yet, that was only the smallest part of just how wonderful this film was.

Ben @ Anipages reviewed Persepolis way back when it was released to theaters a while back, and I purposely tried to avoid reading what he had to say at the time, though I caught the following tidbits:

Persepolis is the best film I've seen in animation in a while.

Aside from Kaiba, this is dead-on! But then there's this bit:

Watching the film, I was appalled by how anime in contrast seems utterly devoid of sincere expression of the sort I felt in every simple composition in each shot of this film. They weren't simply running frantically in a hamster wheel to catch up with a card-deck of pre-chewed expressive symbols and predictable dramatic cliches. They had a very interesting story to tell that created its own arc, and a very unusual but appealing and original design ethos to do so with that was throughout visually compelling and helped the story speak what it needed to say, without being bogged down in pointless photorealism or allowing things to get distracted by stylistic handstands. On a technical note, perhaps it was just my imagination, but I wondered why the characters seemed to suddenly move with much more richness and nuance during the scenes in which they where in silhouette.

If there was ever a distinct, concise and accurate description of why mass-produced anime has generally been dismissed by Western enthusiasts and critics, this is likely why. It's not Ben's imagination; not by a long shot. The visuals, though simple, are graphically strong, emotionally crafted, and very personal. And above all, the truth from the point-of-view of the author.

For a yankee like me, it's a little-seen perspective. And that admittedly adds a layer of fascination to the story. But it's still so human and honest and universal that you can't help but being drawn to these series of drawings. "Compelling" is the most accurate thing about it.

It's simple and beautiful and real and amazing.

It's all the more serious and poignant and relevant right now because of the heated US rhetoric about Iran and the possibility of immediate war and destruction. The story details the perspective of "the other side" during the Iranian revolution of the late 70's that gripped us in a stupid, nationalistic fervor (I am, and have been, embarressed by my pre-teen ignorance back in those days), and the fact that it's all coming back with a vengance, without any perspective or just-cause, is all the more alarming. Persepolis, if anything, shows the human side of history over there. It's easy to apply some sort of un-informed simplistic rhetoric on the situation we face today, but without an accurate undersanding of the past, the history, and the people, there's only bad news in our future if we ignore the reality of the situation.

And, for some reason, I'm drawn to be political about the subject. The film isn't political in a contemporary sense, outside of the whole perspective of the time it took place -- where it's quite simply political, totally in it's own context. How could it not be? The whole period from the revolution onward is an extremely political act, with conflicting and passionate philosophies in play. Watching them as they play out on a very young, naive girl; and how they affect every step of her development (from aquiring black-market Iron Maiden tapes to living homeless in Vienna) is a personal and important reflection on just how much we don't understand the reality "on-the-ground" over there, and just how much the real human lives over there are like us, and always have been. When the film is done, the politics aren't the important part, and yet the awfulness of the repressive regime hangs heavy over everything. That's not the key -- the key is that there are humans with lives and dreams and they party and "life finds a channel to fill" despite everything.

All in a rapid sequence of simple drawings. That's the miracle of animation, that's the miracle of cinema that keeps me searching, and brings me bliss.

No comments: