I'd like to share some thoughts on two movies I viewed recently, Persepolis and Paprika, both animated. Both of them explore the relationship between inner life and outer reality.
Persepolis got a lot of buzz earlier this year with its Oscar nom for Best Animated Feature. Directed in French by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, the movie tells Satrapi's story about growing up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, based on her graphic novel.
In an age of 3-D animation, the movie showcases the capabilities of traditional hand-drawn animation, primarily done in black and white to capture the feel of the graphic novel. The limited palatte does not limit the creativity of the film, which vividly contrasts her vibrant inner life with the growing restrictions of the new regime.
Finally, Satrapi's parents, fearing for her safety, send her to Europe, where she meets a group of young European radicals. Still, she feels isolated, knowing that she is the only one who knows what it's like to fight for your freedom.
The movie does a great job of blending a political statement with a personal depiction of life under the Iranian regime. While Satrapi escapes, other friends and family are not so lucky, and the film shares their stories, as well. Throughout it all, a sense of humor and an eye for artistry combine to transform these stories from newspaper-worthy accounts to tumultuous inner musings.
Watching the making-of documentary, one learns just how well the movie realized Satrapi's inner vision. She met with the animators frequently, even acting out certain scenes for them. As evidenced from watching the movie, they followed her instructions.
No wonder the critics praised this film. Persepolis is one of the few movies that addresses an important political topic, yet in a refreshingly non-dogmatic way.
Rating (out of 5): *****
While it addresses different issues, Paprika shares some qualities with Persepolis. A Japanese animated feature by Satoshi Kon, it is also an adaptation, based on the popular novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui. While the screenplay took liberties, the author himself says that it retained the spirit of the book.
The story is set in the not-so-distant future, where researchers are working on a tool designed to aid psychotherapy: a unit that allows them to record and analyze people's dreams. An experimental version of the device also allows the researcher to interact with those dreams, thus paving the way for potential abuse.
While in a crucial developmental stage, the device is stolen by someone who wreaks havoc by introducing dreams into people's minds (even if they're awake and not connected to the device; how this can happen is a bit fuzzy). In particular, the unknown assailant forces everyone into a megalomaniac's dream, where a parade full of dolls, toys, and everyday objects marches relentlessly onward, sweeping everyone along to an unknown destination.
Among those trying to find the perpetrator are a scientific researcher, the unit's developer, a police detective, and a mysterious individual known as Paprika, who's gifted at lucid dreaming. Together, they attempt to unravel the mystery, as the rift between dream and reality threatens to burst.
As one might expect, the film is visually stunning, with colorful images and dreamlike logic, skillfully blending reality and the dreamworld.
Just as Persepolis examines the dangers of an autrocratic society, Paprika cautions against substituting technology for human interaction. Much like Frankenstein questioned the motives of our scientific advances, this movie questions the ethics of expanding technology before we're prepared to deal with the consequences.
Despite a plot that strains credibility, Paprika gets high marks for sweeping the viewers into a world that melds reality and dreams.
Rating (out of 5): ****
Reality is in the eye of the beholder.