Persepolis, opening today in New York and Los Angeles, is as far from the Hollywood status quo as you can get. It’s an important film, not only for its brilliant presentation of an incredible true life memoir, but for its artistry and its courage to take animated features toward a new path of personal, autobiographical storytelling.
Autobio is common in alternative comics and animated shorts, but rarely at feature length. Bakshi’s Heavy Traffic certainly blazed this trail over 35 years ago, but that was then and this is now. If animated features are to progress, animators need to feel comfortable to tell stories beyond the commercial constraints required by the Hollywood motion picture industry. Stories must get deeper, visuals must evolve, and all the techniques available to animation artists should be used (let me note that Pixar stands unique among the major animation studios, artfully pushing the medium in a commercially entertaining way acceptable to both Hollywood and to mainstream audiences).
Sony Pictures Classics deserves kudos for taking a chance on releasing this (and The Triplettes of Belleville several years ago) in a country weary of cartoon features and less demanding of its motion picture entertainment. Already garnering rave reviews, Persepolis is positioned to influence the medium and may inspire further independent animated features.
But will it? I’m not sure. It’s not that I’m looking for more films to look or feel like Persepolis, rather, I’m hoping for more artists and cartoonists like Marjane Satrapi who will bring their passions to animated films. That’s how our artform will grow — and what I hope Persepolis will do.
Love it or hate it, I encourage you to see the film. Below is video of creator/co-director Satrapi discussing the influences of comic books on her life and work. Merry Christmas.