As an animated feature, "Persepolis" is a low-tech production when compared to the digitally enhanced pyrotechnics that draw the "oohs" and "ahs" in today's movie marketplace. But though it's fashioned mostly of black-and-white cels, this tense, absorbing and deeply touching coming-of-age story shows that there are frontiers in this medium that remain to be discovered with the simplest of elements. And those frontiers have far more to do with heart, soul and intelligence than with green screens and CGI.
Adapted by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud from Satrapi's autobiographical comic-book series, "Persepolis" provides an achingly intimate view of how one young girl's hopes and fantasies come under siege by events beyond her control. Young Marji (voice by Chiara Mastroianni) is the smart and sassy daughter of progressive, upper-class parents (voiced by Catherine Deneuve and Simon Abkarian) in Iran who protested against the excesses of the Shah's regime, but have much to fear from the Islamic fundamentalists who come to power in 1978 after the Shah is deposed.
In the privacy of her home, Marji struggles to maintain her love for heavy-metal and punk rock as she and others are forced to "take the veil" and submit to religious strictures. But with friends and family members being imprisoned, tortured or executed, Marji's parents decide, for her safety, to send her away to a French academy in Austria.
Life for a lonely, intelligent adolescent girl in 1980s Europe provides its own hardships and upheavals. At one low point, Marji takes to living on the streets. She becomes so ill that she is brought back to Iran, where parties with alcohol and music are held in secret and citizens must watch what they say and wear in public. Marji tries to make the best of it, even deciding to marry. After that union goes bust, Marji's grandmother (Danielle Darrieux) says with typically vinegary acumen, "The first marriage is just practice for the next one."
Though elemental in design, "Persepolis" is in no way simplistic in tactics. The film cunningly expands upon effects achieved in Satrapi's original graphic artwork and creates set pieces as ominous, droll and rich with emotion as any live-action feature. Indeed, there aren't too many live-action features that present a young person's point-of-view with as much detail and passion as this film does. It makes you wonder how two-dimensional views can be made to carry so many more.
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