An interview with Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi
ST. PAUL — At 38, Marjane Satrapi still resembles the kid in Persepolis, her autobiographical graphic-novel-turned-animated-film of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Granted, Satrapi doesn’t practice her Bruce Lee kicks at parties anymore; she doesn’t chant “Down with the shah!” or rock out to Iron Maiden or tell God to get out of her head. But, sipping black tea near the fireplace in the swanky St. Paul Hotel lobby, stumping for the $8 million movie she directed with her best friend, French filmmaker Vincent Paronnaud, she comes across more as a sassy punk philosopher than as a Cannes Special Jury Prize co-winner.
“I don’t think artists can change the world, but we can participate, we can ask questions.”
How do you describe yourself?
I am this chick from Iran. I live in France. My husband is Swedish. I speak six languages and travel all over the world. I’m an artist — I can move people and I can tell them stuff. I’m lucky. If all the people in the world had this chance to dream for a living, it would be a better world. There’s a big difference between using a word and using a shotgun.
Are you glad that your humanist movie is coming out at a time of such great international tension?
Yes. We are living in the logic of war, inventing enemies everywhere. Movies can cool people down a bit. What we tried to do with Persepolis was to show that a human being is a human being anywhere. I don’t think artists can change the world, but we can participate, we can ask questions. “Who are these people that we are so scared of? They’re just like us, aren’t they?”
When you began your career, did you choose drawing because of its potential for universality?
Probably, yes. But on one level, comics were just my natural way of expressing myself. I’m not such a good writer; I think in terms of drawing. On the other hand, I always loved the idea that human beings — cavemen — drew pictures long before they wrote or talked. Human expression is universal. A sad face looks sad in any culture.
Would you say you want your film to convince stupid people that Iranians are human beings?
Yes. In general, my goal is to reach the people who would never go and watch a movie with subtitles. I didn’t want to make a movie that only some articulate and educated people would see. It’s like on my book tours, I always told the publishers, “Don’t send me to downtown Manhattan — those people are like me. Send me to the middle of some Republican state. I want to talk to people and try to show them another truth.”
The movie won’t play in Iran, will it?
Not officially, no. But unofficially, of course people in Iran are going to see it. Censorship is an odd thing. If you tell people they can’t have something, of course they’re going to want it. In America, people drank much more at the time of Prohibition than afterward. This is normal. It goes back to the Bible. God says, “Do whatever you want, just don’t eat this apple.” And then what happened?
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