Toronto—The morning after the standing ovation that greeted her film’s North American premiere at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, screenwriter, director, and graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi confessed she had originally thought that adapting her autobiographical comic Persepolis for film was a terrible idea.
“I always thought that was the worst idea in the world,” Satrapi says with a grin. “To make comics and then to make a movie out of them I still think is not a very good idea. The thing was that I had a friend of mine who wanted to become a producer, and he says, ”˜Oh, yeah, let’s make a movie.’ And I was like, ”˜Yeah, I want animation, black-and-white. I want to be able to work with my best friend [graphic novelist Vincent Paronnaud]. And I want Catherine Deneuve. And I want total freedom and nobody can tell me what to do.’ So he says, ”˜Okay.’ And I was like, ”˜Oh, shit, now I have to make a movie.’ ”
The movie, Persepolis, opens in Vancouver on Friday (January 11), and the adaptation clearly wasn’t that bad an idea, because it’s turning up on almost every other film critic’s 2007 top-10 list, shared the Jury Prize at Cannes, scored a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign film, was chosen as France’s official Oscar entry, and has to be the only lock for an animation Oscar nomination aside from Ratatouille. And after grossing more than $9 million in France alone, the movie is making big enough waves that an English-language version is being prepared, with Deneuve joined by Gena
Rowlands, Iggy Pop, and Sean Penn.
Persepolis started life as a pair of graphic novels written, illustrated, and lived by the 38-year-old Satrapi. The books dealt with her childhood in Tehran, the overthrow of the Shah, living through the Iraq-Iran war, her exile in Austria, her return home, and Survivor’s greatest and only hit, “Eye of the Tiger”. The song is featured in a unique, hysterically
brilliant girl-power sequence that Rocky Balboa never could have dreamed of but clearly inspired, and it is Satrapi’s favourite part of the movie. “This was a very great moment, because not only when Vincent and I were writing this script we were imagining it and singing it and all of that, but then I had to dance in front of the camera for the animators.”
It’s also her favourite sequence because of the audience reaction. “We all cry for the same reason—because we are sick, or our father is—but we don’t laugh for the same reason,” Satrapi says. “When two people, they laugh together, that means that they really understand each other. You can be sad with yourself, you can sit and cry, but unless you are crazy, you don’t sit and laugh with yourself. Humour is the height of the understanding.”
Satrapi says that even though people who know how movies work told her she was out of her mind for animating it traditionally—and in black-and-white—she and codirector Paronnaud never doubted their approach. “I really believe you should really believe in what you do, and Vincent and I, we come here from the underground French comics, so you know we have always worked in black-and-white.”
Their underground-comics background also helped them survive the work involved in making a movie. “The good thing with having this past is that you work a lot, and many years, without earning anything at all. So you are used to working a lot, a lot, a lot. And that is why we could finish this movie. So we worked really like 16 hours per day, probably, and seven days a week for two years nonstop.”
Although she’s working on more graphic novels, Satrapi plans on making more movies too. “The good thing with a movie that works is that next time I am going to make a movie, they will not give me a hard time,” Satrapi says. “I don’t have to spend all this time explaining, ”˜Yes, believe me, you have to trust me, I know what I’m doing. The rest, you know—yeah, of course, when they give me this prize in Cannes I would be a liar if I say it doesn’t mean anything to me. It means something to me. But it means something to me for one week. After that, you know, I need the joy of working. When you don’t know where you are going, when you have to create a whole story from the bottom, that is a graceful moment.”
And yes, despite all the success, she still thinks adapting Persepolis was a terrible idea. “I will certainly not make any movies in animation again, because this sucks. It’s so much work.”