Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Persepolis



If after seeing Persepolis viewers stop reducing Iran to bearded fanatics, if they see the inhabitants of this country as human beings exactly like them and not as abstract ideas (Islamists, terrorists...) then yes, I'll feel I've succeeded.


When I first saw the trailer for this film -- with the Muslim girls in a car daring each other to take off their veils and the like -- I knew I wanted to see it, and the above quote (by the writer Marjane Satrapi? It was unattributed in the ad I read, translation mine) clinched the deal: I had to go off my cinema-fast and take the time to go out and see a grown-up movie.

Satrapi's goal was the first thing that came to mind when I read Johnny's "What's your issue?" meme (seen also in Vernal) asking what issue you're most passionate about. My primary issue is to try to convince people to make the effort to see other human groups (foreign nations, ethnicities, etc.) as ordinary people, more like "us" than different. I don't think I've done a terribly good job on this (I have a list of planned posts that are eternally coming up but never ready to post...), but as a first step I'd like to recommend this excellent film. And when I talk about recognizing the humanity of ordinary people in Iran, this is not to be mistaken for "taking their side against our people" in the case of armed conflict. What I'm talking about is trying to see more than just the guys with the guns (on both sides), and how seeing a bigger picture affects the types of conflict resolution strategies that are possible.

Persepolis is a story of revolution, political upheaval, and religious oppression, yet all of that is the background for the human story that takes center stage. Marjane is a lively, bright kid (later teen and adult) growing up the best she can under rather extreme circumstances. It shows what it's like to be an ordinary person forced to wear a veil and what it's like to go about your daily business in danger if you speak out (and even if you don't). In a realistic way it shows her conflicted feelings about her identity as an Iranian woman.

All of that description probably makes the film sound like a typical foreign "watch it because it's good for you, not because you want to" art film, and I'm sorry to make it sound that way because it's fascinating and it's funny in places in addition to being exciting and dramatic. Part of me wants to call it entertaining, but I'm dancing around that word because of the horror and violence of the film. It is quite the opposite of the typical "entertaining" movie violence we see these days (visually graphic, emotionally distant) because even though the visuals are simplistic cartoons, you know that the violence being portrayed is very real.

Still, Marjane's courage -- and that of her mother, grandmother, and others in the story -- makes this a story of hope for humanity pushing up through the cracks of terrible circumstances.

14 comments:

Mr. Fob said...

I love the graphic novels but I had no idea they'd been made into a movie--probably has something to do with me being in the US, where it doesn't yet have even a scheduled release date. Sigh. I'll see it eventually.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Mr. Fob!!!

The funny thing is that this is exactly the sort of graphic novel that I love, and I had never heard of the series until I saw all the advertising for the movie!!! I'm thinking of looking for the original book version.

The film should undoubteldy be released in the U.S. at some point: not only did it win the "Prix du Jury" at Cannes 2007, but it's incredibly timely and relevant for Americans considering that the president seems to be dropping cryptic hints about invading Iran next...

Notonlyamom said...

It's amazing what people can achieve amongst adverse situations!! This is my new site...Joom!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Joom!!!

So true!!! :D

Paul said...

I think much -- or even most -- of the evil humans perpetrate on each other in this world would cease if we saw each other as people. Yet, that's a very difficult thing to do at times, what with the politicians, preachers, and pundits so often climbing over each other to be the foremost at demonizing some group. God! They must sleep well at night.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Paul!!!

I agree that most of the evil humans perpetrate on each other in this world would cease if we saw each other as people, but that it's hard to do. Even without authority figures making it worse, I think the human brain has some sort of natural hurdle that makes it difficult to identify with people who seem foreign. It's not an insurmountable hurdle, but it takes effort.

Paul said...

C.L, you might enjoy reading a post Ed made on a study that revealed infants prefer people who have the same accent as their mothers. That would seem to support your belief the brain has a "natural hurdle". The post is to be found here: http://notexactlyrocketscience.wordpress.com/2007/07/21/five-month-old-babies-prefer-their-own-languages-and-shun-foreign-accents/

Paul said...

Dang! That link will only take you to Ed's blog. The comment box clipped off the last part, which would have taken you directly to the article I was talking about. At any rate, it's the third article down from the top, titled: "Five-month-old babies prefer their own languages and shun foreign accents"

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks for the link -- that is fascinating!!! I've been thinking about some similar ideas but hadn't seen the related studies and data...

On a not-quite-related note, I probably know even less about current events than I do about movies, but I've found a blog that seems to cover activism going on in Muslim countries and within Muslim (and former Muslim) communities in the west: here. I found this site kind of accidentally, so I'd be curious to have opinions from others who know more about the subject than I do...

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Paul!!!

Here's the link to the precise article: Five-month-old babies prefer their own languages and shun foreign accents.

Paul said...

Namazie's site looks interesting, C.L. I've bookmarked it.

I'm no authority on Muslim activism, so please take this for what it's worth: My understanding is that some of the activists in the Muslim world seek to liberalize Islam by striping the Hadith from the Qur'an (the Hadith are commentaries written on the Qur'an and many of them are more conservative than the Qur'an itself).

The beauty of that tactic is they can claim to be returning Islam to its traditional roots in the Qur'an. Thus, they can avoid saying their desire to liberalize Islam is inspired by Western values and political culture. In other words, they can make themselves sound like Islamic traditionalists rather than Westernized progressives.

Yet, so far as I know (which is really not very far at all) the folks who have adopted that tactic to liberalize Islam are pretty much heavily influenced by the West.

One argument I've occasionally seen used to drive a wedge between the Hadith and the Qur'an is to assert that the Qur'an represents "True Islam" while the Hadith represent only "Arab culture".

I don't know how popular that branch of Muslim activism is in the grand scheme of things, but only that I've met a few Muslims on the net who take that approach to liberalizing Islam.

Paul said...

By the way, I misspelled Qu'ran.

Holly said...

I'm glad to know there's been a movie made of the novels. I'm NOT much one for graphic novels, but these I couldn't put down. Thanks for letting me know about the film.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Holly!!!

OK, you guys have talked me into it -- I bought a copy of the graphic novel of Perseoplis and it looks great!!!

(I'm still travelling and mostly away from the Internet until Thursday -- this will give me something interesting to read on the plane...)