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Family values: Persepolis.

Live Through This

By Shawn Stone

Persepolis

Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi

The heroine of Persepolis is an Iranian growing up during terrible years of repression and war in the 1970s and ’80s. Over the course of the film, Marjane (first Gabrielle Lopes, then Chiara Mastroianni) is transformed from intense child to rebellious teenager to confused young woman, all the while dealing with two murderous governments (in Iran) and a disconnected exile in a Europe that’s insulated from the worst horrors of this world.

This wondrous, heartbreaking and frequently hilarious animated adaptation of the coming-of-age graphic memoir by Marjane Satrapi is a must-see for anyone who wants to understand even a sliver of what it’s like to live in one corner of what we—citizens of these United States—like to refer to, monolithically, as the “Middle East.”

After all, if we’re supposed to be going to war with Iran eventually, it would be nice to know who we will eventually be killing.

The short answer is, many people who are a lot like us. Marjane’s family is part of the professional middle class crucial to—and mistrusted by—the U.S.-backed Shah. They rejoice when he’s overthrown, but Marjane and her parents (voiced by Catherine Deneuve and Simon Abkarian)—and beloved grandmother (Danielle Darrieux)—soon discover that it’s a lot worse under the still-triumphant Islamic Republic.

Teenage life in Iran has many of the same pitfalls as anywhere in the West. Just add in the fact that the religious police can and will harass you at every opportunity.

The mostly black & white, Persian-art-influenced animation is stark but fluid. The characters have the straightforward expressiveness found in well-drawn comics, with complex emotions economically rendered. The film is packed with sharp wit and has an appropriately jagged tone—necessary as this grim personal and political history shifts jarringly from love to terror and murder.

The voice acting is uniformly excellent, but best of all is Darrieux. She first became an international star in 1937 opposite Charles Boyer in the doomed royal romance Mayerling, and she is sensational here. By turns loving, caustic, angry and proud, her voice work is better than some of the live-action performances that earned Oscar nominations this year.

(Speaking of Oscar, that Persepolis will lose the Best Animated Feature award is worse than unfortunate.)

Early in the film, Marjane’s grandmother admonishes her to always remember who she is. In the last scene, as the grown-up woman rides away from an airport in Paris, the cab driver asks where she’s from. The rueful, haunted way Marjane answers “Iran” reflects perfectly the tragedy captured in Persepolis.

Tanned and Vapid

Fool’s Gold

Directed by Andy Tennant

There was a time when I thought that Matthew McConaughey had a chance to be a big star. His turn as a Southern lawyer in A Time to Kill demonstrated a “good ole boy” amiability. The horn-rimmed glasses he wore couldn’t detract from his obvious camera-readiness. It seemed only a matter of time, and perhaps a few good directors, until he took his place as a reliable leading man. But then came a slew of big-budget underperformers like Sahara, as well as milquetoast romances like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and it seemed the best the actor could do was to appear shirtless, muscles rippling, in countless magazine pages.

Such experience must have been handy preparation for Fool’s Gold, in which McConaughey plays Finn, a treasure hunter who on numerous occasions is shot, or gets his head bashed in, or is thrown—in chains—into the deep blue sea. All done with superb athleticism, if not interest, taste, or narrative quality. Director Andy Tennant, who penned this thin tale with not one, but two other screenwriters, can’t seem to decide whether he’s riffing on Romancing the Stone or Waterworld, or any number of other films, good and banal, as he follows Finn, his ex-wife Tess (Kate Hudson) and a very motley crew of sidekicks off the coast of Florida to look for sunken Spanish treasure. Hot on their trail are another treasure hunter, whom Finn had defrauded in the past, and badass rapper Bigg Bunny (“it’s one word!”), to whom Finn owes mucho moolah.

So much, in terms of stunt work and money, went into the action sequences and water-toys that the moviemakers had to go cheap on the soundtrack, opting for the kinds of reggae tunes one would expect to hear at a touristy tiki lounge. Hudson, who also at one time seemed to have a big career in front of her, merely reacts to McConaughey’s dumb jock cuteness—that is, when she’s not wrinkling her face up in ecstatic memory of Finn’s sexual prowess. However golden and scantily dressed—Finn and Tess make tans look very, very healthy—the stars can’t keep our interest in this shipwreck of a movie. Only Alexis Dziena, as Donald Sutherland’s dumb-bunny heiress daughter, provides an occasional spark, giving me pause to consider what might have been had she and Tess teamed up in some way. Then again, when you’re forced (as a reviewer) to sit through a movie as dismally bad as Fool’s Gold, you’ll think of anything to try to live through the awfulness. Perhaps the movie could be re-edited and salvaged. I think that Coppertone is ready for a new campaign.

—Laura Leon


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