One of the most gripping accounts of the Iranian Revolution doesn't come from a historian or a songwriter or even a photographer. It comes from a series of graphic novels, Persepolis and Persepolis 2, written by Marjane Satrapi, an artist now living in France who grew up during those turbulent times. Her childhood, sketched out in black and white, has become a window into the changes transforming Iranian society after the fall of the shah in 1979. In 2007, she helped turn the book into an animated film, which was nominated for an Academy Award and screened throughout the world -- except in Iran, where only illicit DVDs got through.
Now, Satrapi is gearing up for another project -- a live-action film called Poulet aux Prunes (Chicken with Plums), based on another of her graphic novels by the same title. In an interview with Golnaz Esfandiari (who attended grade school with the artist), she speaks about her upcoming work, her connection to Iran, and the way forward for her country.
Foreign Policy: You will soon head to Berlin to start shooting your new movie, Poulet aux Prunes. What motivated you to undertake this project, and how do you envision it?
Marjane Satrapi: Vincent Paronnaud [co-writer of the Persepolis film] and I wanted to do a live-action movie to, in a way, express our love for movies. Waiting for Azrael is going to be a love song for all the forms of cinema we've always cherished -- the cinema of the 1930s, expressionist cinema, and also the American movies of the 1950s, especially Technicolor movies.
I love the world of dreams and imagination, and I want to create this movie based on my imagination. I can't go back [to Tehran because I might get arrested], so filming in a studio gives me the liberty to do things according to my imagination. The film takes place in the 1950s, and we will be using mechanical techniques as much as possible rather than digital techniques. That's why it's been said that this is going to be made in the tradition of the so-called "old cinema." But the way the story is narrated and filmed, the rhythm, etc. is going to be modern. We will start shooting in less than three weeks, and if everything goes well, we hope it will be released next year.
FP: The movie will be based on your graphic novel Poulet aux Prunes, which is about your great uncle Nasser Ali Khan, a well-known musician who dies of a broken heart after his musical instrument, his tar (a type of lute), is broken. To what extent does the film remain faithful to the book? And how truthful is the story?
MS: I was told that my mother's uncle was a great musician and that he was loved for his music. When he would play music in the street, people would become silent and listen. They would sit and watch and cry sometimes because of the way he played his tar. I saw a picture of him, and he was very handsome. I was told that he died for unknown reasons. From this point, I embroidered a story. In my film, there are some facts and true stories from the lives of different people I've met. I put them together and weave them, but I also make up a lot of things. So there is a lot of truth in it, and a major part is based on my imagination.
FP: There is one Iranian actress, Golshifteh Farahani, in the film, and the others are mostly French. How did you choose them?
MS: I live in France, I write in French, I live among French people, and it's normal that when I make a movie, I make it in French and I choose actors that I really like. There are French actors in the movie but with different backgrounds -- Portuguese, Italian, and Armenian. I love the idea of making an international film in French.