One of the many things I admire about animation is that it has the ability to make a mountain of emotion out of minimal resources. Sure, animation programs aren’t cheap and under careless direction they can go the way of several live action films that adopt the mantra, “the more money we pour into this, the more money we’ll make.” And while there’s certainly nothing to scoff at if you’ve got the cash to pump into your feature, if you’re throwing money at the project for the sake of money, chances are you might have some incorrect intentions.
But I say all of this because this week’s film did so very much with so very little – a little over $7 million to be precise. Though that amount might seem high, consider it in comparison to some other animated films — even Studio Ghibli’s work can rack up some high costs. “The Wind Rises” burned through $30 million, and “Spirited Away” cost about $19 million. But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to some of America’s production companies. Pixar’s last film, “Monsters University?” 200. Million. Dollars.
So, needless to say, $7 million is not a lot of money to put into a feature film. But “Persepolis” somehow manages not only to make a film, but a great film. The 2007 film makes the most of its art form and manages to give a hearty nod to its roots, an autobiographical graphic novel by the same name – presumably because the film was written and directed by Marjane Satrapi (the novel’s creator and protagonist) with some help from under-the-radar artist Vincent Paronnaud.
The film tells Satrapi’s coming of age story against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. And the choice of animation here is stunning and simplistic, the same black-and-white style of the graphic novel, while sections involving historic narrative are done in a way that reminds me of a shadow theater show – it’s unlike anything I’ve ever come across.
Because of its simple style, you’re drawn immediately into the story and the problems Satrapi experiences and you feel connected to the place and time. Satrapi herself has stated the animation style was chosen to show non-foreign the characters and scenery looks – that any country could become Iran if the right catalysts were in place.
And the film does an excellent job of describing this tumultuous point in Iran’s history from the point of view of someone who doesn’t always understand what’s happening, or is away during some of its bloodiest moments. This allows time to be devoted to issues that are relatable and amplified by the external scenario of war – what does heritage mean, do I accept myself, how do I live with heartbreak, what is depression? Watching Satrapi make her way through these issues created a relatable tether that never broke. This film mercilessly plucked at my heart and made me feel for people I’d never met, in several ways. I laughed, I cried, I questioned how much I really know about the world around me. It was a staggering thing to experience.
And I’m not the only one who seems to feel this way – the film was co-winner of the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. The film was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, but lost out to Pixar’s “Ratatouille.” And I can’t even be mad about that, because it’d ruin the accomplishments of a grand work of cinema.
As someone who’s constantly harping about how good animation is at making you feel for characters, I still was surprised at just how much this film was able to do – and with a landscape a lot of Americans either don’t understand or already have very charged feelings about. I would have a hard time not recommending this to someone, so I very well couldn’t leave you all out of the loop.
Beautiful, poignant, and emotionally sweeping, “Persepolis” hits all the right points on a nearly empty pocket.
Now that’s using your money wisely.