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The Persepolis Effect - Majane Satrapi Interview

Author: Gaynor Flynn
Wednesday, 13 August 2008
3D’s Gaynor Flynn directs some questions toward Paris-based illustrator Majane Satrapi, who explores her childhood in pre-revolutionary Iran in one of biggest hits of this year’s Sydney Film Festival: the hugely affecting animated film Persepolis.

Persepolis is a coming-of-age story with a difference. First published as a graphic memoir and now an animated film, Marjane Satrapi recounts her turbulent upbringing in Iran, then later under the oppressive fundamentalist Muslim regime.  The changes are dramatic. The veil is forced on women, thousands are imprisoned and fear permeates.  Marjane, however, is a precocious, outspoken child who fearlessly finds ways to outsmart the “social guardians” and hold onto what she loves, namely punk, ABBA and Iron Maiden. As a teenager, Marjane is no less rebellious and her parents send her to Europe for safety.  It almost kills her.  She’s lonely, ends up homeless and thinks about suicide. Perspolis could have been a bleak, depressing tale, but it’s not; using caustic wit and disarming warmth, Satrapi depicts her experiences with shrewdness and candour. The film has already won two Cesars (French Oscars), and only seems destined for more accolades.

What prompted this story-
The two times I left Iran in 1984 and 1994 both of the times I was quite surprised by the things people thought they knew about my country and how far they were from reality.  They were asking me questions like how many wives my father had and almost if we were riding camels.  I was like, what are you talking about-  They see movies like Not Without My Daughter and they think we wash ourselves once a year and eat cockroaches. It’s so far from the truth that I had to sit down and write it down.

Did those misconceptions just annoy you, or was there something else-   
When we always talk about the worst thing in a country, it sells [the news] but the dangerous thing with that is that you reduce people to some abstract concept. You dehumanise them completely and that’s why it’s easy to go and kill 300 Iraqis. People forget that they’re just like them and they have brothers and sisters and hope and love.

What do you think will be one of the biggest surprises in your film-  
People think we are sitting and crying the whole day praying for the West to be destroyed, which is not true. If you look at very serious studies the Iranian people are the most pro-Western in the whole Middle East. Nobody knows about that. Of course we always need somebody to be scared of and because we don’t have UFOs coming from the planet Mars and we don’t have the Communists anymore, we have to find somebody to be scared of.  So this is us.

Why is the film co-directed-
I was supposed to make this movie myself, alone and then I had my best friend Vincent [Paronnaud] who was working with me in the same studio, and I said to him ‘do you want to work with me-’ because this guy’s a great artist and I love his work.

Did you ever think about making it live-action, not animated-
Actually the story dictated the form that it had and we couldn’t make it in live-action because we wanted to make a story we considered as a universal story. There is something in the abstraction of the drawing that helps this universality because anyone can relate to a drawing.  

How did you get Catherine Deneuve on board- Did you have specific people in mind from the beginning-
Oh yes. I wanted Danielle Darrieux (8 Women) for the grandmother, and Catherine Deneuve for the mother. I love that people are thinking that we took her because she is famous. If it was a question of using famous people I would take Paris Hilton because people would have made much more of a fuss around it.

Will there be more films and more novels-
There will be more everything and I’m also waiting for the surprises of life. I was not supposed to make this movie.  Making movies was not my plan.  It just happened; I never forced destiny, and now I’m excited for what it has in mind for me next.


Persepolis is in cinemas on 21 August. More information from sonyclassics.com/persepolis .
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