It’s summer again, and, as has become usual, the cinema is already being dominated by movies about musclebound men in colourful suits, punching things. Whilst being a huge fan of all things superhero (I’ve already seen Avengers Assemble and it was awesome) I thought I’d watch some movies based on more indie fare and tell you what I thought of them. I know, I’m too good to you.
First up is Persepolis. This animated movie is an adaptation of the autobiographical graphic novels of the same name by Marjane Satrapi. It’s a story of two parts. The first shows the struggles of a family of liberal idealists over 15 years of revolution, war and oppression in an increasingly repressive Iran, viewed through the eyes of a girl growing up in the middle of it. The second part is the story of a young girl growing up and trying to find her place in the world.
The combination of the real drama and sadness of the world the characters are living in and the more domestic ups and downs of a rebellious youth growing up makes for compelling viewing. What most interested me were the genuine moments of levity between Marjane and her family and friends, even in the midst of the oppression surrounding them.
The way the film is animated is also interesting. It’s drawn in the same way as the graphic novel and very simply animated which reminded me of the gentle 1970s cartoons I used to watch when I was a kid. It gave a sense of nostalgic familiarity that combined with Marjane’s innocent observation of the world around her to give the film a calming feel I wasn’t expecting.
American Splendor is a biopic of Harvey Pekar, based on his long running series of autobiographical comics. Unlike Perspolis there are no great historic events or world changing moments here. American Splendor is about life at the bottom. Pekar’s life is a story of depressing melancholy and neurosis: even when he appears to be making a success of things, it just gives him more reasons to be anxious.
Paul Giamatti is cast as Pekar but the movie is intercut with little scenes and old footage featuring the real Harvey, who also narrates the story. It felt a bit like a documentary with dramatisations of events at some points, but I quite liked that.
American Splendor isn’t an easy film to watch. It’s slow, it’s depressing and a lot of the time the characters are pretty unlikeable. It’s worth it though; Paul Giamatti does a great job portraying Pekar and it finishes on a particularly charming note featuring the real Harvey and a lot of the other people you see portrayed as characters throughout the film. Most of all it’s a great introduction to the work and ideas of one of the last century’s most important comic writers.
So there you go, two great movies based on comics and not a cape or a domino mask in sight. Get them watched and read the books as well. You won’t be sorry.
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