Manoel de Oliviera’s “homage to Luis Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere” is less a sequel than a remembrance of a beloved film, as imagined through a character revisiting the story 40 years later. Piccoli reprises his role as the cocky libertine Husson and Bulle Ogier takes over the Deneuve role as Séverine Serizy, the one-time loving housewife and part-time hooker. Now a society dowager who has long ago moved on, she dodges Husson but finally gives in to his persistence (one might call it stalking) and agrees to a dinner.
The pace is leisurely and patient, as if de Oliviera (98 years young himself at the time of the film’s release) is savoring every moment in an old man’s life that has been rekindled through invigorating memories and casual cruelty, but there’s a spry wit and sly sensibility behind the quietly elegant direction. His direction of their dinner as the sun sets and the candles burn out on their awkward conversation is masterful. It’s a game for him, tossing the past back at her, as if to coerce her into affirm his psychological interpretation of their shared history, like a critic or a beloved fan meeting the author of a beloved work from long ago, a work the author rejects but the fan still celebrates. And that’s what the film has to offer: no provocative commentary or stunning insight to Bunuel’s classic, merely a conversation about memory, about aging, about remembrance.
Marjane Satrapi is the author of the acclaimed autobiographical novel “Persepolis” and the co-director of the feature film adaptation, which secured a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Animated feature. I interviewed Marjane Satrapi early in December for the Seattle P-I. I had a generous 25 minutes with her – it was her last interview of the day – and only a tiny portion of the interview was used in the final piece, “A Moment With Marjane Satrapi.”
Here is the (mostly) complete interview. Note that Ms. Satrapi speaks (at least) three languages. English is her third language. Maybe her fourth?
I read your graphic novels about a year ago and saw the film at Toronto. I thought it was remarkable how faithful the movie is to the character of the art and style of the original novels, and yet so fluid and creative in its use of the animation medium. What was the biggest challenge in moving from the static panel of the graphic novel to the medium of animation?
The first thing was to understand is that it is not the same narration, so we had to forget about the book and really start to make a new narration but with the same material. And that’s why, as you say, the book and the movie, they are very similar and at the same time they are very different and that is the whole paradox. In the relationship that reader, as with the comic books, and the viewer with the movie, to start with that, is not the same. Unlike literature, when you read a comic book, you are very active as a reader because between two frames you have to imagine the movement yourself. When you are watching a movie you are passive because you see the images. We’ll start with that. Then you have things like the sound, the music, etc., so if there is a feeling that I have to describe with one word or draw something in a comic, for example, I can count on the music to get this feeling. So it’s not the same medium. The whole danger of this project was to do exactly what everybody thought I would do, to take a camera and take it from the frame, one after the other, and think that we will get a movie. Since we knew this danger, we tried to avoid it as much as possible. And we thought about it as a movie, not even as an animated movie. We made it like a movie, the only thing is that it was drawn. People talk about animated movies as if it was a style. It’s not a style, it’s just a technique. It’s like comics. “Comics” is not a style, it’s not just superhero stories, it’s a medium. Animation is the same thing. So we approached it this way and just tried to make a movie.
Did you ever consider making it as a live action film?
Not at all because for a subject like that and for the purpose we had, me and Vincent, we wanted the story to be much more universal. I didn’t want it to become a political or historical or sociological statement, because I’m not a politician and I’m not a historian and I’m not a sociologist. I’m one person and I believe that there is only one thing that is important and that’s the human being, the individual. Individualism is the basis of democracy, without individualism we don’t have any. As soon as you make a movie in a geographical place with some type of human being, then it becomes the story of the Middle-Eastern, far from us: “They’re not us, they’re foreign.” There’s something about the abstraction of the drawing that everybody can relate to because drawing is the first language of the human being, before writing, before even the use of the language. We have so many different kinds of narration in the movie. We have the scenes of normal life, we have the puppet things that are the historical scenes, we have the more realistic scenes, meeting with the guard and all these scenes of the war, etc. The animation became an obvious choice, because otherwise we would have done something do vulgar going in the other direction. And that helped a lot.
A memoir in the form of an animated feature, “Persepolis,” adapted by Marjane Satrapi from her acclaimed graphic novels, is a remembrance told not with anger but disappointment.
The film unfolds as a flashback, the quiet color of the uncertain present giving way to the graphic boldness of black-and-white memory. The narrator shares the experience of coming of age in Iran in the wake of the Islamic revolution. At the same time she leads us through her developing perspective as she grows up from little Marji — a girl who adores Bruce Lee and rocks out to Iron Maiden — to empowered young woman Marjane (voiced by Chiara Mastroianni). Marjane quickly finds that her artistic ambitions and personal desires are constrained under the oppressive laws of her country.
Satrapi and co-director/co-writer Vincent Paronnaud embrace the comic-strip style of line drawing from her books, and find an evocative richness in the austere and seemingly simple form. Every hand-drawn line has character and personality, and creative flights of animated fantasy are used sparingly and subtly…
The third incarnation of the Children’s Film Festival Seattle opens with Lotte Reiniger’s magnificent 1926 animated classic “The Adventures of Prince Achmed.” Subsequently the festival will offer five feature films and more than 70 shorts (collected in nine separate programs) over the next nine days.
Reiniger’s adaptation of “The Arabian Nights” tale is the oldest extant feature-length animated film, and it is accomplished entirely in delicate, intricately designed cutouts silhouetted against a tinted backdrop. This is not animation as we think of it today but a shadow play of the figures like lace miming the most elaborate magic lantern show ever crafted. It’s magical, mesmerizing and absolutely unique, and will be shown with an original live score composed and performed by Seattle area musicians Nova Devonie and David Keenan (who perform as the musical duo Miles and Karina).
A kind of “highlights reel” of my interview with Marjane Satrapi, author/artist of the “Persepolis” graphic novels and co-director of the film, is featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer today. My review of the film will run in Friday’s paper.
Born and raised in Iran, Marjane Satrapi grew up in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution, where she watched the idealism in the wake of freedom from the shah’s rule give way to an oppressive culture of religious extremism. She left for Paris in 1994, when she was 26, and has been an exile ever since. “You become a stranger everywhere,” she said, “but in a way you are also an insider everywhere.”
Satrapi first told her story in the autobiographical graphic novels “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood” and “Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.” Now she brings her story to the screen in the richly realized animated feature “Persepolis.”
She talked about her memoir, her film and her life on a recent visit to Seattle.
On why she chose the graphic novel/comic book medium for her story.
I have a brain that functions with text and images so this is it. It’s funny … nobody would ask a writer, “Why did you write a book and why didn’t you dance?”
On adapting her graphic memoir into an animated feature:
People talk about animated movies as if it was a style. It’s just a technique. It’s like comics. “Comics” is not a style, it’s not just superhero stories, it’s a medium. So we approached it this way.
On animation over live action:
As soon as you make a movie in a geographical place with some type of human being, then it becomes the story of a Middle Easterner: “They’re not us, they’re foreign.” There’s something about the abstraction of the drawing that everybody can relate to, because drawing is the first language of the human being, before writing or language.