Marjane Satrapi is Back with a New Movie
If you’ve never seen Persepolis, an elegantly animated film of a rebellious little girl growing up during the Iranian War, do yourself a favor and purchase the DVD. It’s a classic for any collection. The film earned Marjane Satrapi (also a children’s book author) an Oscar in 2008. She illustrated and wrote the original graphic novel for Persepolis, another must buy (trust me readers). This week, Marjane premiered her new epic film Chicken with Plums in theaters which moved me beyond words. I was lucky enough to meet the wildly intellectual overactive mind and chat about childhood and her obsession with death.
Jauretsi: When you create a story, do you see visuals first, or do you write text first?
Marjane Satrapi: Both. It’s together. It’s very difficult to say what comes first you know because… [MORE], well, I always say it’s like the baby that grows up in a belly. You don’t have one hand that grows first, and then here comes the nose and then, one toe. Everything grows up at the same time. But I’m a person who thinks with images.
Q: What were your early doodles as a kid?
A: I always draw…I think I always draw people. You know, something very funny. We were living on the 4th floor so the first drawing that I made, the view was the perspective from up. So I was looking down, you know, at the people, and so everything that you saw was if you looked at them [birdseye]. All the time my head was out [of the 4th floor window]. I was just very, very interested. For hours I could be just by the window looking at the people, how they were walking, what they were doing, you know. I was like, “What’s going on down there?”
Q: Do you have a favorite children’s book growing up?
A: Well, you know, I grew up in a family that were very leftist so, you know, I only had the Russian children’s books that were actually extremely beautiful, but then I had to read all these books about miserable children that had to work because they lost their father while their sister died, etc. My parents had this obsession that I had to be aware that people’s life was not easy. My parents also had an obsession that I would be a future intellectual. You don’t bring your nine-year-old child to go see Deer Hunter.
Q: Whoa. That’s bananas. Lets talk about love. The film has this sense of “obligation of love”. First between the young girl obeying her father not to marry her true love, and then there’s the protagonist obligated in a bad marriage who doesn’t leave. Feels like a ball and chain here. Is there some sort of lesson?
A: Yeah, but, specifically, you know, in the years the movie is happening it was like that, but thanks to the sexual revolution and all sorts of revolution in the 1930’s…
At the same time, when a story of love finishes good, it has no interest. I mean, I always say, imagine Romeo and Juliet, they get married and then they have 12 children that are shouting the whole day, “Momma! Momma! Pappa!” with the snot here and both of them being fat and Juliet, you know, cooking pasta and Romeo scratching his balls, you know, watching television. You think that Shakespeare would write a story about them? No. You know, you have to die to become interesting.
Q: Yes, I see what you mean, the longing is what really pulls you in the movie.
Q: The film Chicken with Plums also embraces this sentiment of “follow your dreams at all costs, or you will die inside”. How does that relate to your life?
A: Completely, it is related to my life. I mean if one day I cannot do what I really like – exactly what I really like, not even approximately but really – then I don’t know why I should live at all, you know. These are things that are priceless. You know, I have made a very important calculation. You know I am 41 and since you know I am a huge smoker and all of that, let’s say I can work another 30 years, in good shape, and I’m being positive. You know, a big project like a movie, it takes me three years and three years, out of thirty is ten percent and ten times ten percent is 100 percent and so you understand I have 10 other big projects in my life to do and then its over.
Q: So you broke it down to mathematics?
A: Yes, because I’ve had math studies before. Ten times ten projects, so, this is it. So I have to be very careful. No money in the world, no success in the world will give you the joy of enjoying something. If you don’t have that, why do it? This is extremely, extremely important. You know, I have proposition [of films] to make, and I can make these movies that I would not like. I mean I would put three years of my life for what? To be on a red carpet in Hollywood and to shake the hand of Angelina Jolie? It’s three years of my life!
Q: So when you are on your death bed, you can check off your checklist and say…
A: Yeah, I did what I wanted to do.
(Chicken with Plums opened in theaters yesterday, August 16th, Stateside. For New Yorkers, visit Angelika Theater)