Film of the week

Son of a Lion: 92 minutes. Rated: PG. Director: Benjamin Gilmour. Starring: Niaz Khan Shinwari, Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad

Persepolis: 92 minutes. Rated: M. Directors: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud. Starring (the voices of): Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux

Son of a Lion screen cap Sydney filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour put his life on the line to make Son of a Lion. Iranian-born Marjane Satrapi sketched her life onto paper for Persepolis. These are two very different films — the former a low-budget drama shot on digital video, the latter a slick, uber-stylised animation — yet each provides its own insight into growing up against a background of historical and present violence in the Middle East.

Son of a Lion is set and shot in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, in the tribal town Darra Adam Khel. Darra is arid and isolated, and is known for its Pashtun craftsmen who use reverse engineering to forge state of the art firearms from scrap metal.

Sher Alam Afridi (Ustad) is one such gun-maker, a widower determined that his young son, Niaz (Shinwari) will follow in his footsteps. But Niaz is not interested in the family trade. He wants to attend school and get an education like his peers in Peshawar.

This familial conflict makes for standard coming-of-age fodder. However it's the touches of authenticity that distinguish the film — the craggy beauty of the north-western Pakistan landscape, and Gilmour's attention to the minutiae of daily life in Darra.

The most remarkable thing about Son of a Lion is that it exists. Many of the inhabitants of the North West Frontier Province are distrustful of Western filmmakers. Even Morgan Spurlock, the maverick filmmaker brave enough to almost commit 'suicide by Maccas' in 2004's Supersize Me, deemed the region to be too dangerous for foreigners in his recent documentary Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden.

Gilmour took the risk, but shot discreetly. His use of handheld digital video camera gives the film a guerilla feel. The actors are non-professionals — some, including Shinwari, are immediate family members of executive producer Hayat Khan Shinwari.

The director — an ambulance paramedic by trade — made Son of a Lion as a means to an end. He hoped to share the humanity of the Darra Pashtuns with an international audience of what he describes as 'Islamaphobic' Westerners. The result stands as both empathetic homage, and an accomplished piece of 'shoestring' filmmaking.

Persepolis screen cap Punk is Not DedThe no-frills story and production values of Son of a Lion contrast with the visual and thematic eloquence of the animated feature Persepolis. And while the former tries to dim the ringing of the clash of cultures, said clash resonates throughout the latter.

Petropolis' writer/co-director Satrapi was born in Iran in 1969 and grew up in Tehran. She moved to Austria as a teenager, and to France as an adult, and so developed a distinctive, hybrid Western perspective of events in her home country.

Persepolis is based upon her eponymous memoir — in fact, a graphic novel. It portrays her initially as a precocious nine-year-old (voiced by Ebi Gabrielle Lopes) during the Islamic Revolution and the subsequent rise of fundamentalism in Iran.

It then charts a bittersweet trajectory as Satrapi (voiced as teenager and adult by Mastroianni) grows up and away — both corrupted and enlightened by Western culture, increasingly disillusioned with the violence and oppression that have become hallmarks of life in Tehran, yet striving to hold on to the values espoused by her parents and, especially, her grandmother (Darrieux), who embodies her idyllic view of Iran's past.

The black-and-white animation is faithful to the comic-strip style source material, and adds an abstract charm to the film. It is also provides an efficient means of capturing the film's preoccupation with historical recollection as storytelling, allowing the past to be recast as the larger-than-life imaginings of a child, or the petulant revisionism of a disillusioned teenager.

Satrapi shares her story with both humour and pathos. Persepolis is at once a deeply personal coming-of-age story and an ode to the evolution — and sometimes devolution — of culture. It is an unlikely but fitting companion piece to Son of a Lion.

Son of a Lion (official website)
Persepolis (official website)

Have you seen Son of a Lion? Have you seen Persepolis? Post your review of 200 words or less using the Feedback form below.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles have been published by The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier Mail and ASif. He is a contributor to the volume American Exorcist: Critical Essays on William Peter Blatty. Email Tim

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Son of a Lion, Benjamin Gilmour, Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud



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