Persepolis dir Marjane Satrapi/Vincent Paronnaud
XXY dir Lucia Puenzo
Two films about rebellious teens who know their own minds, much to the dismay of society and consternation of their families.
Marjane Satrapi's comic volumes of her life growing up in Iran and eventual exile to France have been brilliantly translated to animated film, voiced by an array of French stars such as Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darrieux, in Persepolis.
The tone is mostly comic, as the lively, opinionated Satrapi finds her independent spirit smothered by the increasingly restrictive regime in her homeland. The pop culture references are a hoot--the scene with black marketeers on the street offering Iron Maiden and "Jichael Mackson" cassettes is especially funny. It isn't easy worshipping Bruce Lee and pursuing one's aims as a prophet while war rages and the country moves from dictatorship to religious state.
Satrapi is sufficiently outspoken as a teenager that her sympathetically portrayed parents send her to a lycée in Vienna for her own safety. The sequence in which she loses her way and falls into a depression is unexpectedly grave and moving. Her acid-tongued grandmother acts as a moral compass, demanding young Marjane stay true to her Iranian identity while wittily disparaging those who fall short of her expectations.
The film offers a potted history of Iran in the 20th century, with descriptions of torture and disastrous foreign policy interventions sitting side-by-side with disastrous love affairs and frightening encounters with religious extremists. Finding herself an outsider at home and abroad, Satrapi must decide where her future lies, eventually opting for France, where she lives to this day.
XXY is a whole different exploration of otherness, set on an island in Uruguay where an Argentine family has gone to escape "idiots" only to find themselves besieged by a whole new set of same. This unwelcome attention is directed at their offspring, 15-year-old Alex, intersexed and disenchanted with taking medication to remain acceptably feminine.
Alex is the only one who talks sense in this ponderously paced drama, declaring,"I am both", when questioned about her (everyone refers to Alex as "she" and Alex never specifies) gender. The adults stand around, engaging in metaphorical handwringing and wondering what to do about this "problem" while Alex gets on with life, reading up on female domination and acting out sexually with a young visitor to the island, Alvaro, whose surgeon father hopes to "correct" Alex's condition.
The scene in which Alex jumps (and humps) Alvaro is certainly an eye-opener and the consequences prove to be revelatory for both of them. By the end of the film I was more concerned with how poor Alvaro would deal with his burgeoning sexuality -- beaten down as he was by a boorish father and a distant mother -- than with Alex's dilemma. Her parents, by contrast, were portrayed as affectionate, protective and well-intentioned, if ineffectual.
The film suffers from slow pacing and some clumsy symbolism--there is much cutting and chopping of flesh--and characters make bald statements that defy subtlety. "It's silly, isn't it? Worrying about what people think" is one comment that hangs in the air. It is also puzzling when a female friend of Alex's appears in a sleepover scene and then disappears without being named. Surely, in an 86-minute film, more time could have been given to this character, a peer who appears comfortable with Alex's identity.
After much ado about nothing, Alex asks: "What if there is no decision to be made?" Indeed.
Persepolis opens on 25 April.
XXY opens on 9 May.