Friday, August 15, 2008


Having seen very few new cinema releases in months, and with the flood I mentioned coming up, I'm pretty keen to take every opportunity to see the pick of the new releases before all the festivals and other seasons swamp me. Friday evenings we (the family) meet up after work/school for dinner and, if there's a suitable film (ie, something you can take a 7-year old to), we're in. With advance screenings of Persepolis, this looked ideal. And it was.

Persepolis is a French production, an autobiographical coming-of-age story about an Iranian girl who overcomes all kinds of social, political and personal adversity and eventually settles in her adopted country, France. Omigod! This sounds like an almost identical premise to the raft of Australian coming-of-age films produced in the last year or two. Except that Persepolis actually works, and works well. It is bold, funny, deep, moving, intelligent, engaging, visually appealling, uplifting, original and educational. It's really an adult film though my son loved it too (4.5/5 stars from him, and he cried as well, always a good sign).

Directed by Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi, it tells the story of Satrapi's childhood, growing up in pre-revolution secular Teheran and how everything changed with the demise of the Shah, the war with Iraq and the takeover by religious fundamentalism. Marjane marries young, much to the consternation of her lively (and some could say feminist) grandmother. Eventually she leaves for Europe.

I was astounded at how entertaining an overview of modern Iranian political history could be. The film confidently and competently includes just enough detail to give us a sense of historical perspective without getting stuck in tedious details. But the main reasons it works so well are: (1) the telling of the story from a child's perspective, and (2) the novel way in which characters are presented, especially Marjane's very endearing grandmother.

Watching the film, I couldn't help but think of the parallels with contemporary Australian cinema. This is the kind of film we could (and should) be making. As far as animation, we have the talents of award-winners like Adam Elliot (Harvey Krumpet), Anthony Lucas (Jasper Morello) and others. Animated or not, it doesn't matter. This film demonstrates how to tell a compelling personal story, full of meaning and feeling, and imbued with humour.

The film's visuals are very appealling. The present is depicted in colour, with the bulk of the story in the past where a sort of tinted black and white is used. It looks fantastic. As I mentioned, it's a great story for children if, like me, you give credit to their capacity to understand complex concepts (ie, this is no Lion King or Finding Nemo). The use of well-paced and well-placed humour gives younger ones plenty of hooks into the story, even if they don't completely understand everything.

Persepolis has won a swag of awards including the sharing of the Jury Prize with Silent Light (one of my MIFF 2008 favourites) at Cannes last year. Advance screenings take place this weekend, and it opens next Thursday. I highly recommend it.

Did anyone else see it at MIFF? Or since? What did you think?

By the way, I saw this at the Kino and learnt that the Kino is now part-owned by Palace Cinemas. I knew that long time co-owner was looking for a new partner after his run with Dendy ended (due to Dendy's being sold to Icon Films). This explains why the upcoming Italian Film Festival is screening at 3 other Palace cinemas and the Kino.