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Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud • Directors

A universal tale


- When Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud started out on the adventure of making Persepolis, they were driven by an appetite for risk, for pleasure - and a fierce independence

Cineuropa: Why did you decide to adapt your graphic novel?
Marjane Satrapi: We could find a million and one reasons because of course we asked ourselves if it was a good idea to adapt a successful graphic novel.But to be honest, the opportunity arose and we were driven by a desire to go through this experience.
Vincent Paronnaud: There’s an unquestionable pleasure in making a feature. We used all the tools we had available. There were pitfalls to avoid but we knew what the risks were.

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And what do you think they were?
M.S.: We could have just filmed every panel, and that would make a film. That’s what people expected us to do. But narrative language is entirely different. In a comic strip, it’s the reader, for example, who fills in the blanks between the two panels and imagines what happens between the two.
V.P.: I wouldn’t have been hooked on the film if it was only about political demands. The film’s dialogue, individuals reduced to nothing by a totalitarian regime and the issue of self-growth in such a context are universal and humanist themes.
M. S.: We also had to avoid the propaganda aspect. Everyone knows from what we showed that we are neither historians nor sociologists. It’s my story, an entirely personal viewpoint. When it’s filmed in a very candid way, being subjective is much easier and much cleverer. It’s not a documentary about a people. A people is too vast, it’s the opposite of an individual. It’s full of idiots, good people and crooks. Of course, the film destroys any clichés about Iran, as it’s a tale of culture shock. Culture doesn’t have borders and if there are any borders, they are between the idiots and the rest. Believing that all bad guys come from the same place, that’s what Fascism is. "Let’s get rid of all the idiots and live among ourselves, people from good society". The thing is that all that is much more complicated and the film does a good job of showing that. The baddie in the film is not the ugly guy with the beard. The person who commits an atrocious act is the person who gives a poor guy to the revolution guard. And that person is me. That’s also why Persepolis [+see also:
film review
interview: Marc-Antoine Robert
interview: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Pa…
film profile
is not a typical comic book – there’s no hero, no heroic action.
V.P.: And while it does cover very topical events, we actually started the film three years ago!
M.S.: When people say the film is coming out at the right time, we laugh. It’s not as if we made it last week!
V.P.: Also, both of us are independent directors and we have too much bottle to fall into the trap of being topical.

How did you get started on the project?
V.P.: The whole challenge of the film was for it to be something other than a comic strip, an independent artistic object. First of all we needed a real script, a solid base, very structured. We picked out what we thought were the essential elements, symbolic and other more anecdotal life events, then we very quickly banished comic strips from our mind. We invented a lot in this project and we created a sort of vocabulary proper to the film itself as its development proceeded. We didn’t have any references to animated series in mind. We were in the middle of making the film and we had to explain what we wanted, that it was about animation, production design, editing. We didn’t stop going over and over it to make the subject matter seem coherent.
M.S.: You have things, you look at the whole thing but since everything is a matter of balance and rhythm, the film had to stay open all the time. For example, we recorded the last voices in February, and in March we were still trying to change the set. And then thanks to black-and-white, we got this graphic homogeneity. If you change the narrative register all the time, you don’t feel the contrasting tones. These are what hold the film together and make it coherent. In a real treatment, everything is dreamlike or fantastic, like scenes with puppets or the moments with God. If it isn’t science fiction it at least borders on tackiness. We could have changed so much, the forms or registers, to give it a sort of very vulgar patchwork-like feel. But we wanted to make a universal film and not just another story about these people that live in a faraway land, these fanatics, these terrorists that we can’t understand. We were also very careful not to make it oriental. Our greatest success was when European audiences said that the most exotic moment in the film was the move to Vienna, and that’s exactly what we wanted. Images, cartoons are universal.

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