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Monday, July 14, 2008


Left I at the Movies: Persepolis

Two nights ago I watched Persepolis, an animated film about a young girl (and later, woman) coming of age in Iran before and after the overthrow of the Shah and the Iranian Revolution. When the film started, the words "Sony Pictures Classics" appeared on the screen, and I joked to the person with whom I was watching the film, "How can this film be a 'classic'? It just came out!"

Well, it didn't take the full hour-and-a-half, or anything close to that, for me to eat my words. Persepolis is a classic, and if I were to write a one-word movie review, it would be "Wow!" What an unbelievably good film, a great story combined with innovative and captivating filmmaking in the form of (largely) black and white animated graphics. And I'm not just saying this because most of the heroes of the film are Communists!

Watching the extras on the DVD, I listened to Marjane Satrapi (the writer, co-director, and the autobiographic subject of the film) claim the film was "universal." Well, I suppose it can be taken that way, but perhaps not in the way she intended, which was as a condemnation of "dictatorships" everywhere. I saw it more as a condemnation of imperialism everywhere (over and above the coming of age story, obviously). Imperialism is depicted installing the Shah, then after the overthrow of the Shah we see the imperialist-inspired (and assisted) Iraqi invasion of Iran which led to more than a million dead. We also see, just as in Palestine, the imperialist supported government (the Shah) destroying the left, leaving the field of opposition to be dominated by religious fundamentalists.

Some readers will no doubt wonder how, after the countless posts on this blog in defense of Iran and even Ahmadinejad, I could be defending this film with its strong anti-Iranian message (anti-Iranian in the sense of being opposed to its religious fundamentalist leadership). Clearly I do not support religious fundamentalism of any kind or in any country, be it Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Israel, or the United States for that matter, where there's plenty of it. But I also don't support, even more strenuously, the idea that the "West" has any right to intervene and "set things right" with our "Western standards." The people of Iran, or Saudi Arabia, etc., have to sort things out for themselves. One million plus dead Iraqis and tens of thousands of dead Afghans are testimony to the folly of thinking otherwise. Not to mention the ludicrous idea that people like George Bush et al., at the forefront of the opposition to women's rights in their own country, have the slightest concern for women's rights (or any rights) in any other country.

Update: Watched it again last night, in English this time (the first time I watched it in French with English subtitles, which I assumed was all that was available until I watched the "extras.") The second viewing was just as good as the first. I didn't really mention above the mix of humor and tragedy in the film, pulled off incredibly well. Truly a work of genius.

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