Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi finds passion and humor in times of turmoil

This interview originally aired on September 21, 2011.

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis was an international bestseller, translated into 20 languages. Published in 2000, it recounts his life in Tehran between the ages of 6 and 14, a period which saw the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, the rise of the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq. In 2007, with his French collaborator Vincent Paronnaud, Satrapi shot Persepolis into a masterful animated feature film. It won the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Oscar for best animated film.

Satrapi was born in 1969 into a secular socialist family. Her teenage outspokenness prompted her parents to send her to high school in Vienna. Later, she moved to France, studied art in Strasbourg before moving to Paris, where she began publishing comics.

In 2011, Satrapi and Paronnaud adapted his graphic novel Chicken with prunes in a live action movie. Inspired by the life and death of his great-uncle, a famous 1950s musician, it’s a fictional love story about passion, pleasure, joy and loss.

Marjane Satrapi spoke with Eleanor Wachtel at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011.

Inspired by an uncle

Purple and black book cover with an illustration of a man playing tar.

“I went to see my own uncle in Germany, who’s also a musician, and he was showing me a family album he had. And so I was looking at this photo, and he said, ‘Yeah, this is our uncle. And, he was a musician, and he died because he was very sad. But nothing more. And this man was extremely handsome, extremely attractive. So I think I first fell in love with a photo. And then I just tried to guess, ‘What could he die of?’

“I also wanted to do a portrait of who an artist is. Because an artist is a very sentimental being, but at the same time, you have to be quite narcissistic to be able to become an artist. Imagine me doing something like a book or a movie. Not only do people have to buy it or go see it, but they also have to applaud me, and they have to like me. If you’re not a narcissist, you’re not doing such things.

“I just wanted to talk about death. The idea was that we know someone is dying and they are dead. And now let’s start the story of their life.”

The need for romance

“I think we need romance. I think we need to believe we can die of love and not put cynicism or irony into it. People have told me Chicken with prunes is another political film. But big changes are not always brought about by politics. One of the best times, for example, in the history of human beings was rebirth. And the renaissance was not a political change. Suddenly people started believing in poetry, sculpture, literature and art, and it made them better people.

Suddenly people started believing in poetry, sculpture, literature and art, and it made them better people.

“Maybe we need imagination. Maybe we need belief. And I love the idea in 2011 of being able to make a movie where a man dies because of the love of a woman. woman. I think it’s important and it’s romantic because I’m very romantic. I don’t look like it, but I am.”

Directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud discuss their new film, Chicken with Plums, and the pressure to follow the success of their first film, Persepolis

Hope in Chaos

“The Iran-Iraq war is one of the greatest wars in modern history. There were over a million dead. Even with all that bombing, it never made me lose my hope and my faith in human beings I also understood that a life with total happiness does not exist, but a life with total sadness does not exist either.

Even with all these bombardments, it never made me lose my hope and faith in human beings.

“When they were bombing, we were hiding in the caves, there was always someone cracking a joke, and then we were laughing and celebrating, because that’s the only way to survive. You can’t just sit and to be sorry.”

Facing death

“I’m completely obsessed with the idea of ​​death because I think it’s just a disaster. I just can’t accept this idea of ​​dying. I don’t understand. Imagine you and I dying for the same thing. reason that a cockroach is going to die. This means that at some point, our cells no longer reproduce.

“But the difference is that we know we’re going to die. So for me, it’s a total injustice, this idea of ​​death. Now I’m 40 and I understand life much better today. today than I understood it when I was 20. So I guess when I’m 60 I’ll understand it better than I do now, and even better when I’m 80. So by the time I will finally be smart enough to know how to live, I have to die. completely abnormal, but yet so normal and terrible.”

A Tunisian television channel has been convicted and fined for airing the 2007 Oscar-nominated animated film Persepolis by graphic novelist and filmmaker Marjane Satrapi. (Sony Pictures Classics/Associated Press)

Longing for home

“What I miss the most in Iran are the mountains with the beautiful snow and the pollution of Tehran. And the sense of humor of the people. No matter what they say, it’s not true, the the sun doesn’t shine the same everywhere. of the sky isn’t the same. And the sounds of the birds aren’t the same. And the wind in the leaves doesn’t sound the same. And I’m not the same. someone nationalist because I think that one of the diseases of the human being is too patriotic, there is only one identity, it is the human identity.

“But you were born somewhere – it’s a matter of geography. It’s this matter of smells. It’s a matter of the sound of something you’re used to. Like a plant that’s planted here, that comes You can’t just take it out, put it somewhere else, give it better soil, give it really good water and good vitamins.

I can live anywhere, but I have to die in my country because if they didn’t bury me there, it wouldn’t make any sense.

“He’s used to this soil because that’s where he grew up. I can live anywhere, but I have to die in my country because if they don’t bury me there, then everything it wouldn’t make sense. That’s why I have to be buried in my country and I will, but I hope that before I’m buried I’ll have the chance to live there.”

Marjane Satrapi’s comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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