For anyone who loves their grandma as I do, Persepolis, (2007 Animation) is a truly amazing film. Based on the autobiographical book, of the same name, by Marjane Satrapi, the movie tells the story of a young Iranian girl, Marjane, as she grows from a child into an adult, during the 1970s and 80s fall of the Shah, and the bloodbath civil war that ensued, fueled by the West.
Marjane is a precocious child, and made well aware at a very young age of how politics and changes in the tide of human fortune can lead to life and death situations, even among those she loves. Marjane, has two supportive, educated, down to earth liberal parents, and her grandmother provides Marjane the sentimental inspiration that drives Marjane’s faith.
The scenes begin with Marjane at an airport in France, smoking, and looking back over her life so far. I won’t relay all the scenes, so as not to spoil the film, but will skip to where Marjane and her grandmother are at the movies together in Iran, watching a Japanese film where a monster is eating up a city. The grandmother shouts advice to the characters on screen, and covers Marjane’s eyes for the graphic parts, much to the young teenage Marjane’s mortification.
It is snowing as Marjane and her grandmother exit the film. They talk of an uncle who needs a heart transplant, but cannot receive it because he cannot get a passport due to the extreme religious take over of the ruling government body. The aunt who speaks to the hospital’s director to beg for her husband’s life, realizes the hospital director, is her old window washer, and he now has the position he does because of his religious zeal to the Ayatollah.
The hospital director/window washer tells Marjane’s aunt, that everything is meant to happen as God wills. And nothing more is done to help the aunt’s husband who needs heart surgery abroad in order to live. Marjane mentions the uncle smoking as a trigger of his health issues and the grandmother rebuffs her, saying it is that he lost his children (sent abroad) due to a ridiculous war, that caused the uncle’s heart to fail.
Marjane and her grandmother discuss her uncle’s health, while they order a warm snack from a food vendor; alone with his cart in an empty, snow filled threshold. Touched by their conversations, the vendor states, “May God eradicate these barbarians.” The grandmother replies, “May God hear you.” Marjane and her grandmother continue home and the scene broadens to reveal this man, the warm food vendor, calmly and patiently hovered over his cart for heat in a desolate snow filled square.
Persepolis, reveals that people, including families, do not only live with each other, but for each other. The memories of Marjane’s grandmother, how she smelled of jasmine, is shown as a tribute to the woman who taught Marjane to value herself as an individual, to rise above human folly, even horror, so as to have integrity.
By Sarah Bahl
Farewell, My Queen (Les adieux a la reine) directed by Benoît Jacquot; provides a uniquely intimate portrait regarding the ending climax of King Louis XVI's reign. The intimacy is due to the perceptions of the story being told from the perspective, not of the reigning nobility, but from that of a top end servant girl, who works and lives among the most powerful members of court-life at Versailles Palace (about 14 miles from Paris).
The film begins with a very realistic opening scene of Sidonie Laborde, on July 14th 1789. Sidonie, is the servant who drowsily and slowly wakes within a sun filled simple room, wearing loose fitted white night clothes and scratching mosquito bites as flies buzz around her. It is easy to feel the heat of the day in the room and one wonders how the nobility manage wearing so many layers of clothes during the summer. I find Sidonie's daytime work outfit to be beautiful and intricate. Her hair is simply placed on top of her head uncovered and she wears no makeup.
Despite Sidonie's natural beauty, I realize what she wears is nothing compared to the detail and marked sophistication of Queen Marie Antoinette's unusually stunning garb. The Queen's eyebrows are light and when at court she wears full make-up. Within her private chambers, she does not.
There are details within the film, that reveal the lack of hygiene behind the daily lives of those in court, despite all the finery. For instance; Sidonie's arms are covered in welts from bites and she wears the same dress everyday, except for one. How much the smell could have matched with the look is of question.It appears Sidonie only has three outfits. One, her nightdress which might be the same as what she wears under her day dress. Then there is a formal dress of her own she wears toward the end of the film. Though, the hygiene efforts do speak of the general standards throughout Europe at the time, it still causes one to wonder: if this is the standard for the fairly well off Sidonie, how much are the multitude of persons within France suffering on a daily basis?
The servants seem to have enough to eat but no table manners. Sidonie, despite her well read proficiency toward life, has no idea how to eat from a fork, nor what to do with her elbows. It is a reminder of how, despite her education and natural intelligence, she is a servant. Kept to a certain place. Sidonie is awoken by a chiming clock, a rare treat for a servant girl to have in her possession. Sidonie is given the task of reading to the Queen. The Queen's attentions flit from one task to another. From plays to fashion designs, to rosewater ointment for Sidonie's welts.
The Queen is married to the King, but they are never seen directly together until the King leaves Versailles. Why he is separated from his wife and children during such dangerous times for the family is not explained.
It is not made known the Queen has children until toward the end of the film. It is a film very much about adult needs, desires, and games. The Queen makes her appetites readily known and she is familiar with both genders on the subject. Her true love appears to be for a high ranking noble woman and this love is known both to the King and the whole court. Marie Antoinette and the King see each other for one very dry, awkward parting farewell kiss with the children present.
Sidonie holds true love for the Queen in her heart, until she realizes, she is just a pawn, in a brutal game of survival among falling powers. The Queen gets what she wants for the most part, and she plays very aptly with Sidonie's lonely emotions, in order to cull her into submission. Sidonie is also outnumbered both by individual powers and circumstance. There is really no outlet for an independent voice of her own within the confines of court life on the eve of the French Revolution. The most human factor in the film, is another one of the Queen's personal attendants, who implores Sidonie not to do what the Queen is about to ask her.
By Sarah Bahl