Interview with Marjane Satrapi

| August 8, 2012

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian born French author, graphic novelist, director, and illustrator. As a child, she attended the Lycée Français in Tehran where her family was involved with communist and leftist political groups partly responsible for the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Her graphic novel, Persepolis, is a memoir of her childhood growing up during the Revolution, the subsequent Islamic regime that took control of Iran after the Revolution, and the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980’s.

In 1983, Satrapi was sent to Austria by her parents where she attended the Lycée Français de Vienne. She returned to Iran after graduating high school where she attended university. She received her diploma and then received a Masters degree in Visual Communication. At 21, Satrapi married an Iranian man, but the marriage lasted only three years. Satrapi has written about these events in her later life in the second installment of her graphic novel series, Persepolis.

Satrapi became well known for her work through the publication of the Persepolis novels. First published in France, the novels were published in the United States in the early 2000’s where they won numerous awards and much critical acclaim. Satrapi co-wrote and co-directed an animated film version of Persepolis which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. In 2008, the film was nominated for an Academy Award. Satrapi continues her animation and film-making work at her home in France.

After Persépolis, Marjane Satrapi’s new movie Chicken with Plums, also co-directed with Vincent Paronnaud, is also based on another graphic novel by Satrapi, it is the story of a talented violinist who has decided to die. While he recalls major events from his life, eternal themes are raised: death, creation, love… The movie turns out to be both funny and dramatic, as is the film’s director, as Paul Fischer discovered when he met during her recent visit to Los Angeles.

Paul Fischer: Persopilis was a very personal film for you. How much more personal was Chicken with Plums?

Marjane Satrapi: It was much more personal, actually, because it’s true that in Persepolis I talk about myself, but I basically use myself to talk about whatever surrounded me. The basis of Persepolis is how, when all the reasons of the world become bigger than an individual, how does an individual grow up, how does he or she deal with all of that. Also when you talk about yourself, when you create a female character, I always make a kind of subconscious censorship, because it’s a place that’s very personal for me, and I know I’m being watched, so it’s a place I might not necessarily go, because you don’t want to show everything of yourself. When I wrote Chicken with Plums, the main character ia a male, so for me the connection between this man and me was not so direct, but I’m still very much like him. I’m a very unbearable, egoistic pig and at the same time I’m very charming, sentimental and romantic.

P.F:Which of those aspects of your personality is the most dominant?

M.S: It depends, but I just can get into something and become very obsessional and nothing else exists in the world for me and at the same time I can be very romantic and very charming I think.

P.F:Now thematically, this film is about love and regret. Were those themes something you could identify with?

M.S: I think there’s nothing worse in this world than to die for love. If there is one serious subject in this world, that would be it. That is the ONLY serious subject. And I think if you’re also honest with yourself, you can never survive a broken heart. Then we invent things like he or she was not good looking, he was not like this, or like that, but these are just excuses that are invented in order for us to survive and to go on. But if we are very honest , when our heart is broken, then it’s really broken and difficult to start from a broken heart. Now all of this is despite the fact I haven’t yet suffered from a broken heart. I’ve been married to the same guy for 17 years, which is the really the same as being to him for 117 years.

P.F:As ultimately tragic and sad Chicken with Plums is, I didn’t realize how funny it was going to be. Was it important to punctuate the film’s tragic elements with comedy?

M.S: Absolutely because life is like that. You don’t have total happiness but not total sadness either. I’ve had 5 years of war, but that doesn’t mean that your life stopped. On the contrary, because there are bombs every day, you realize that your life is very short, and maybe the next bomb is going to fall on your head. So you try to live the most possible , and my family never threw as many parties as there were during the war, because it was a way to survive. If you want to make a drama, you have to both construct and deconstruct it and at the end people will have believed in the drama, really go into the story.

P.F:Now you grew up during the Iran/Iraq war. How did that shape you as an artist?

M.S: When you live through these kinds of experiences, you pace the importance of things on an entirely different level. For me, I have this kind of optimistic attitude. For example if I fall down and break my hand I say: Oh, I could have been dead. So no problem, I’ve just broken one hand and so what’s the big deal? So I always have a bigger comparison and it’s I could have been dead.

P.F:So you’re a born optimist?

M.S:I’m actually very pessimistic because I always think the worst thing will happen and then that makes me optimistic, because since I’m always waiting for the worst to happen and it never happens, I’m always surprised. But I’ve always been obsessed with death which is why I wrote Chicken with Plums. Every day I wake up I look at myself and I go: Oh my god the blood is going through my veins and I’m still alive. It’s still surprising for me that I still can be alive. I’m still surprised every day.

Chicken with Plums opens in Select Cities on August 31.

About the Author:

Paul Fischer I've been an entertainment writer going on for three decades. Born in Australia, I began writing for Australian papers and was the first Australian journalist ever to interview both Woody Allen and Mel Gibson. I moved to Los Angeles at the end of 1999, and apart from my teaching career, have written for Film Monthly and Dark Horizons.

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