“Unfortunately, many of us forgot who we were” Marjane Satrapi

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Marjane Satrapi was born in 1969. She grew up in Tehran where she attended the Lycée Français (French high school). She then studied in Vienna before she relocated to France in 1994. In Paris, through fellow comic book artists, she was introduced into the Atelier des Vosges, an artist studio which gathered major, contemporary comic book artists. In her first graphic novel, Persepolis 1, published by L’Association in November 2000, Marjane told the story of the first ten years of her life until the overthrow of the Shah regime and the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war. In Persepolis, published in October 2001, she described the Iraq-Iran war and her teenage years until she left for Vienna at the age of fourteen.

Persepolis 2 dealt with her exile in Austria and her return to Iran. Since then, she has published Embroideries (Broderies) and Chicken with Plums (Poulet auxPrunes ). Persepolis is co-directed with Vincent Paronnaud, and is her first feature film

Bijan Tehrani: Your film has a very honest approach towards the Iranian Revolution. Too many people use to judge their future by their own background or class and ignored their current situation. Your film deals with this conflicting thought and addresses many problems through honesty.
Marjane Satrapi: In my life it was not so much a matter of honestly, but the problem is that if you are not honest, you lose lots of time because, once you start lying, you have to make another lie to cover the first lie, etc. etc. I know I can lie to anybody, but I can’t lie to myself. Even me, myself, the way I show myself in the movie isn’t all nice, one of the people who does the worst thing in this movie is me. I’m absolutely not proud of that, but that is what fear makes out of you. When you are full of fear, your brain does not function and you lose your dignity and you lose whatever value that you defend and that is why it’s not possible to be fearful, because you lose your brain, you lose your mind, you lose everything.
I was a child. I was only 9 years old, but I remember exactly what happened. I remember this enthusiasm people had. People really believed that the democracy would come. My parents were a middle class family and the revolution came from the middle class. I remember all of these friends that came out of prison and I didn’t know that they were all in there. They had all of these stories about what happened to them in the prison of Shah. I remember when I was a kid, even my parents who were not really happy with Shah, in the house; they were talking about Shah, Shah Yamir. It was really scary, and if I went to school and I said Shah is not good, I would be in trouble. This is what I remember, and I hate when the story is remade. I hate when people overcome and say whatever, it was it was great. To me that is insulting Iranian people. If you say that this revolution was not made by Iranian people, then that means that that Iranian people are cowards. I don’t believe that Iranian people were cowards, I have respect for them. We must not forget that Shah was a dictator that was put in power in ‘53 by a coup d’état made by the American and the British. This was it. Now I see some sight of these Royalists where they put a picture of Mosadegh next to the picture of Shah, and you know this is a joke. How can you put a picture of Mosadegh next to a picture of Shah and call yourself a nationalist? That is how the people are, but I try to tell my personal story. I’ve always said that I’m not a politician, I’m not a historian, I’m none of that; I’m just a person who was born in a certain place and I remember stuff, and I try to get as close as I can to the feeling I had when I was a child. If we were to construct a better Iran tomorrow, everybody has to understand the mistakes they made, because if there were no mistakes, then why was there a revolution? Let’s just recognize the mistakes. That is the way to go up and move forward and create something on the same basis.

Bijan: That’s quite true. There were many stories told about different people during the Iranian Revolution, but there have never been any stories about Teenagers, young kids, and especially women and what happened to them.
Marjane: I was 10 years old when the war happened.
I grew up in the war with all of my generation. We were the generation that left the country without our parents. I think other than Cuba, Iran was the only other country where you had a massive immigration of adolescents without their parents. These things leave their sequels; it is not like anything you know. Out of all my friends that I know at this age that left, I’m the only one that is married. None of them are married or have kids. In a way, if you grow up with this idea that life is a revolution and war and you have to be away from your family, and you have to immigrate and you have to be like the other one and have to forget yourself – how much faith can you have? I analyze this now, today, but, you know, these are things that happened to you and maybe at first it was so hard to come from somewhere else, especially a somewhere else that was judged. We were kids, we were 14, 15 – you say you are Iranian and they would judge you and you didn’t have your parents close to you to defend you. Unfortunately, many of us forgot who we were. I cannot forget who I am. Every morning when I get up and I have to wash my face, I look at my hair color, my eye color – just that, that is enough to remind me of who I am.

Bijan: How did you come about with thinking of writing your memories, and when did you first think about making it a comic?
Marjane: The fact was that I didn’t know how to make it. The story, I said it over and over again. I think that it was 5 years after I left Iran for the 2nd time when I had enough distance with this story and that was the right time for me to write it.
I don’t believe that with anger, with this feeling of revenge… it’s not a good feeling to write with. Then I’d be doing what people who I’m not happy with do. So if I answer to stupidity with stupidity, to violence with violence, to madness with madness – then what is the difference between me and them? As a person who considers herself intelligent, I tried to take a step back. I tried not to judge and just describe the situation.
The image in my brain and the words go together. I’m not very comfortable with the words alone. I always wanted to draw and to write and comic books were the best combination. It became the obvious thing.

Bijan: How did the idea about making it a film come about?
Marjane: That was not my idea at all. When the book came out in America, there were propositions about buying the rights of the book. It was a book that was selling.
As personal as the story is, it is not a documentary about my life, but it is a book based on my own personal experiences. I had a responsibility; you cannot sell something like that and make another version of, Not Without My Daughter in which Iranians are just a bit nicer. This was impossible. So either I had to do this myself or it couldn’t be done. I had a friend in France who wanted to be a producer and he proposed to me that we make this movie. I could work with my best friend, I would have the possibility of making it, I would not have to compromise; I had the final cut on everything. So it was a deal. As an artist, they propose to you to try it in another medium that you are not used to; so you try it just because you want to try it. You say to yourself, in the worst case, I make a bad movie. What’s the big deal, I am alive and you know life goes on and we can make something else. Life goes on. We know that. We know that your life can switch in just one second. So you know it’s not a big deal. As long as you are alive, everything is fine.
I just dived. When I dived I said to myself, “I don’t know how to swim!” but that’s how it started.

Bijan: Personally as a film critic who has been in this business for the last 25 years, this is one of the best films I have seen in the last decade. I think it is a very honest movie. So you have some other great talents that have worked with you in this movie as well, like having Catherine Deneuve in the film – how did that happen?
Marjane: Thank you so much. Well you know Catherine Deneuve, I knew she liked my books. Like many other actors, I just sent the scri pt to her. And they called me back and said that this scri pt is interesting and I would like to work with you on it. This is the way it went, just like that. She came and her daughter, she knew about the project and she said “Oh, can I give it a try?” The same thing happened with Danielle Darrieux. The process for the cast in the English version was similar. I met with Sean Penn and I spoke to him about the same thing. I explained my point, my point of view and he was like “I’m with you!” Gena Rowlands reacted similarly. I’m really convinced about what I do, it’s not like I did this movie to be famous. It’s a very small budget film. I made my life out of drawing and making my books, so there was no question about that. I think they were convinced, so people, very naturally and with lots of generosity, gave me their hand and I took it.

Bijan: Were you surprised that your film was selected by France to be presented to the Academy Awards?
Marjane: Yes, but you know this is actually a big change in Europe. France chose this movie as Germany chose the Fatih Akın film—which is as much a Turkish as it is a German movie. This problem is much less of a problem in America, because everyone is an immigrant, but in Europe there is this thing that even if you have a French passport, like mine, I will always be an Iranian. This was the first time I considered myself as being French. Finally, they recognized the fact that you can come from somewhere else and you can have another story and be French anyway, and I’m French. There is no problem about it. You can be both of them. For example, you have many German movie makers during the war that came to America and made their movies. Many things happened like that in America, so here you have that culture of that. In Europe, you don’t have it. So this nomination is more than being happy to be nominated by the country to represent France at the Oscars; for me it has a lot of personal value. Suddenly, I was a part of France and since we don’t have land anymore, it is a good feeling to belong somewhere.

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About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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