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Satrapi’s personal look at Iran in ‘Persepolis’

The subtitle for Marjane Satrapi’s highly personal animated film “Persepolis” might as well be “Iranians: They’re Just Like Us.”
/ Source: The Associated Press

The subtitle for Marjane Satrapi’s highly personal animated film “Persepolis” might as well be “Iranians: They’re Just Like Us.” They lose their keys, dance to “Eye of the Tiger,” endure rocky relationships.

Satrapi, an Iranian who now lives in France, said her mission was to share with Westerners her stories of how life was lived during the Islamic revolution, and what went on just out of sight of the “guardians,” police enforcers of religious principles.

The film, largely in black and white, is based on Satrapi’s two graphic novels of the same name. Co-written and co-directed by Vincent Parronaud, it features Chiara Matroianni as the voice of Marjane, Catherine Deneuve as her mother, and Danielle Darrieux as her dynamic grandmother.

Satrapi, dressed in flowing black, stabbed her lit cigarette in the air to emphasize points as she talked about the movie in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

AP: Tell me about your family.

Satrapi: I come from a middle class family, with money. Not a huge amount of money, but we were living in a nice flat. My parents had their own car. We could go on holidays abroad. I could go to a bilingual school. We went to the cinema, to the theater, being able to read books. Having access to the culture, that’s what’s most important. My parents, they are open-minded people. They had only one child. Even though many times they didn’t agree on my decisions, they always let me do what I wanted to do. I was never raised as a girl. They never made me a girly girl, so I was just playing like other kids.

AP: I read that they were descendants of a ruling family in Iran.

Satrapi: My great-grandfather was a Qajar, that is the dynasty before the Shah. But you have to know something. In the Qajar’s family, each man had hundreds of brides. So imagine how many kids you have. You multiply this by the number of generations, there are thousands of them. The reason I wrote that is that at the beginning of the century, the only people that had enough money to send their kids abroad ... was Qajar princes. They went at the beginning of the last century to Europe, and the dominant idea was the Communist idea, was the socialist, Marxist idea. ... That is the paradox of the whole thing. ... My grandfather came from this family and he ended up being a communist.

AP: Do you feel fortunate as an artist to have your key piece of art be all about you?

Satrapi: I’ve done these things, and that’s why I put it in my own name. Of course it’s not a documentary about my life. Of course the parts of fiction shouldn’t be forgotten, because this is a story. ... But we’re looking for reality in reality shows, and reality shows are crap. As an artist, I’m looking for truth.

AP: It’s refreshing, though, to see a story that is so personal.

Satrapi: I just want to keep it at a personal level, so it doesn’t become a political, or a geopolitical, or a historical, or sociological statement. If it becomes a statement, then I’m supposed to have answers. But I don’t have any answers.

AP: Did you want to make a movie?

Satrapi: Never. I never wanted to make a movie. I made the book (in 2000) believing nobody wants to publish it, then it became a whole big deal. Again, as an artist, suddenly I had the possibility to do exactly what I wanted without making any compromise, to work with my best friend, to work in the style of animation I want. ... I said to myself OK, in the worst case you’ll make a very bad movie. But so what? For two years I’ll learn to do something that I would never try otherwise.

AP: Are you a fan of film, and animated film in particular?

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AP: You made this for Western audiences. What are the key things you want to tell U.S. audiences about Iran?

Satrapi: If for one second you can say, “This is a human being just like myself,” this is when my goal is reached. ... The use of the humor is something that was very amazing to me. Because to me, humor is the height of understanding. Anywhere in the world we cry for the same reason. We cry because our father is dead, or our mother is sick. We don’t laugh for the same reason. If we laugh together, it’s as if we’ve touched each other’s spirit. We showed this movie in Japan, and people laugh at the same time as the French do, as the Americans do, as the Swiss, as in Germany. ... It gives me some hope actually.

AP: Are you hoping the movie will be shown in Iran?

Satrapi: The movie will be seen in Iran (on black market DVDs). ... Of course they will see it, like everything else that is forbidden, but they ignore it. I’m always amazed that people think that by forbidding something it can work. The whole history of the human being is Adam and Eve and they tell them do whatever you like to do, just don’t eat the apple. The first thing they do is to go and eat the apple. This is our nature.