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Sat August 18, 2012
Movie Interviews

Marjane Satrapi: 'A Real Love Story Has To Finish Bad'

Originally published on Sat August 18, 2012 7:58 am

When we first meet Nasser Ali, the protagonist of Chicken with Plums, he's a mess. He loves his children, but doesn't support them. He has never really loved his wife — though he likes a dish she makes, chicken with plums. He was an accomplished violinist, but his wife shatters his violin to hurt him; she believes his instrument is the only thing that he truly loves.

As Nasser Ali peels back his life, in 1958 Tehran, we begin to learn about the broken heart that's beneath his sadness, madness and flights of genius.

The film, adapted from Marjane Satrapi's 2004 graphic novel, stars Mathieu Amalric, Golshifteh Farahani and Isabella Rossellini. It's directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, who also won much acclaim for their 2007 film of Satrapi's graphic memoir, Persepolis.

Satrapi spoke with Weekend Edition's Scott Simon about the creative differences between comics authorship and directing, her love for Isabella Rossellini and her hopes for the film's reception.


Interview Highlights

On why Nasser Ali destroys the illusion of a puppet show for his daughter

"Because my grandfather, who was in love with my mother, did that — because he wanted [his] child to know the reality of life and not to dream that, you know, these are actually talking dolls. So, you know, these are the things that I grow up with, that, you know, they have touched me. You never have people that are always nice, and you never have people that are always not nice."

On working with co-director Vincent Paronnaud

"We had lots of time to prepare the movie, so, you know, we knew what we wanted to do. But then in a very pragmatic way, I am with the actors and he is with the cinematographer, and most of the time it's very fine. But sometimes I don't agree with the one framing and he does not agree with some direction of acting, and then we start yelling at each other and it's really bad, and then we're so angry that, we pray [to] God that the other one will die. And then I will sleep, and then that is the day after, and then we are friends again."

On how living actors differ from drawing your own

"It depends on what actor. I mean in France, that was only Mathieu Amalric who could make the role [of Nasser Ali], because he has these eyes, you know, he has these eyes that are incredible. ... He has a fever in his eyes. Or Isabella Rossellini — when you have these actors that are like that, and they're not divas, and they're not there to give you [a] hard time, they are really committed to the movie, when they add something, and I'm just enchanted by this moment. I'm so grateful that, you know, this man exists and he can bring me this far. So no, no, there is no frustration."

On getting Isabella Rossellini on board

"I called her and I said, 'Oh, Ms. Rossellini, I have this dream to be able to work with you,' and directly she told me, 'I'm in.' I was like, 'Ms. Rossellini, maybe you want me to send you the script?' And she said, 'I never chose a project by a script; it's people that I want to work with, and I want to work with you.' And that was it. I'm in love with her, really. If I was a man, I would have asked her for marriage, but I'm not a man, unfortunately. "

On the importance of arranged marriages to the film's drama

"[It's because of] that that you can have this kind of melodrama. I mean Romeo and Juliet today, it cannot happen — because if the father of Juliet today [says] to Juliet, 'You cannot marry Romeo' ... she will go and marry him anyway. And if she marries him, then there is no more love story anymore. You know, they're married and they have lots of children. Imagine Romeo and Juliet and they have like 12 kids — who would care about their story? ... I mean, do you think really Shakespeare would write something about them? A real love story has to finish bad, that is what I think."

On "nursing hurt" and the role of suffering in art

"Listen, to tell you the truth, I don't think that you need a huge amount of [suffering], because if you suffer too much, normally you finish in the mental hospital. But at the same time, I have to say that sometimes — rarely, but sometimes — it happens to me that I wake up in the morning, I look at myself in the mirror, I think that I'm very beautiful. You know, the sun is shining, I'm very, very happy. This day, it's impossible that I go to my studio and I draw and I write something. This day, I go out, I buy myself a dress, I call my friends, I have some pina colada, I never create. If we were very happy we would be like cats — we would lick ourselves and then sleep and eat and probably we would be much happier. But we would be cats."

On Chicken with Plums' distribution in Iran

"Well, already the DVD exists with subtitle[s] so, you know, it's funny because when I was 13, I would go to the black market and buy myself the cassette of the Rolling Stones and the Clash and this and that. And now I am part of the black market."

On what she hopes Western audiences will see in the film

"I know my people and I know that despite whatever they can say, [the] Iranian people — I'm not talking about the government — they are the most pro-Western population in the whole region. They have always been. But ... in my life I've been very close to politics, and believe me the very small hope and belief that I had in the human being completely disappeared. It flew away.

"You know, the cynicism that is in politics, it is not for my soul. It makes out of me an extremely bitter, cynical person that I hate to see in the mirror, really. And when I make a film like that, I will say to myself: People, they will watch it and they will say, this [is a] country that we think about only [in terms of] beard and veil and nuclear weapon. So in the same country, a man died because of the love of a woman. And if they understand that, I have done my duty. I can not do more than that. That's it."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. When we first meet Nasser Ali, he's a mess. He loves his children, but he doesn't support them. He's never really loved his wife - though he likes a dish she makes, chicken with plums. He loves music and was an accomplished violinist. But his wife shatters his violin to hurt him; she believes his instrument is the only thing that Nasser Ali truly loves. But as Nasser Ali peels backs his life in 1958 Tehran, we begin to learn about the broken heart beneath his sadness, madness, and flights of genius.

"Chicken with Plums" is the title of the film made in French, from Marjane Satrapi's 2004 graphic novel. It stars Mathieu Amalric, Goshifteh Farahani and Isabella Rossellini. It's directed by Vincent Parronaud and Marjane Satrapi, who also won much acclaim for their 2000 film of Ms. Satrapi's "Persepolis." Marjane Satrapi joins us, in our studios from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARJANE SATRAPI: Thank you for having me here.

SIMON: I have to tell you, Nasser Ali is hard to like sometimes - more than sometimes. He's not very nice to his wife. He takes his daughter to a puppet show - and he loves his daughter - and then he makes a point of showing her that they're just puppets...

SATRAPI: Exactly.

SIMON: ...they're not real. And you wonder, why would a father do that?

SATRAPI: Because my grandfather - who was in love with my mother, you know - did that because he wanted her - child to know the reality of life and that to dream that, you know, these are actually talking dolls. So you know, these are the things that, you know, I grow up with that, you know, they have touched me. You know, you never have people that are always nice. And you never have people that are always not nice.

SIMON: As we noted, you directed this film with Vincent Parronaud. And it's live-action, as opposed to animation.

SATRAPI: Yes.

SIMON: How do two people direct a movie?

SATRAPI: Well, you know, we had lots of time to prepare the movie, so we knew what we wanted to do. But then, you know, in a very pragmatic way, I am with the actors, and he is with the cinematographer. And most of the time, it's very fine. But sometimes - like, I don't agree with the one framing, and he does not agree with some direction of acting. And then we start yelling at each other, and it's really bad. And then, you know, we are so angry that, you know - like, we pray God that the other one will - dies. And then we sleep, and then that is the day after. And then we are friends again.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you about working with actors because unlike your graphic novels - when you can move people around - the actor shines through.

SATRAPI: Absolutely.

SIMON: And does that change? Is that a little frustrating for the creator of the material?

SATRAPI: It depends on what actor. I mean, you know, for me - I mean, in France, that was only Mathieu Amalric could make the role because he has these eyes, you know. They are these eyes that are incredible.

SIMON: He plays Nasser Ali.

SATRAPI: Yes. And he has a fever inside his eyes. Or Isabella Rossellini. So when you have these actors that are like that - and they are not divas, and they are not there to give you hard time. They are really committed to the movie. When they add something - and I am just enchanted by this moment. I am so grateful that, you know, this man exists, and he can bring me this source. So no, no, there is no frustration.

SIMON: Let me follow up on Isabella Rossellini, 'cause she's got a wonderful star turn as Nasser Ali's mother. And it occurred to me that Isabella Rossellini, of course, was born of a relationship between her mother, Ingrid Bergman, and Roberto Rossellini, the film directo. That was one of the scandals of its time - which is about the same time of your story.

SATRAPI: Absolutely. Because, you know, like today, this kind of thing won't happen. But at the time - I mean, Ingrid Bergman, she was completely rejected from Hollywood, and it was not easy for her to - like that. But Isabella Rossellin - I mean, I called her and I say oh, Miss Rossellini, I have this dream to be able to work with you. And she - directly she told me, I'm in. And I was like, Miss Rossellini, maybe you want me to send you the script. And she say, I never choose a project by script. It's people that I want to work with, and I want to work with you.

SIMON: Oh!

SATRAPI: And that was it. I'm in - I am in love with her, really. If I was a man, I would have asked her for marriage. But I'm not a man, unfortunately.

SIMON: At the heart of Nasser Ali's story is - you know, the phrase we have in America is, "the girl who got away." Her name is Iran, and she didn't get away so much as her father forbid her to see Nasser Ali. And your story - I don't mind saying, without making it polemical - is an indictment of arranged marriages, as opposed to romantic love...

SATRAPI: Yes.

SIMON: ...which has its own problems. Arranged marriages are - people are speaking up for them nowadays.

SATRAPI: Well, you know, I mean, that that is the time. The woman - he asked the hand of this woman, his late 20s. But this is also because of that, that you can have this kind of melodrama. I mean, "Romeo and Juliet" today, it cannot happen because if the father of Juliet today say to Juliet, you cannot marry Romeo; and she say, I don't care. And she will go out and marry him anyway. And if she marries him, then there is no more love story anymore. You know, they marry; then they had a - lots of children.

(LAUGHTER))

SATRAPI: You know, imagine Romeo and Juliet and they have like, 12 kids. Who would care about their story, you know?

SIMON: Romeo and Juliet go to Costco...

SATRAPI: Yes, it will...

SIMON: I'm trying to imagine that. (LAUGHTER)

SATRAPI: I mean, do you think, really, Shakespeare will write something about them? A real love story has to finish bad. That is what I think.

SIMON: It's interesting you should put it that way because there's a moment in the film where a wise man says to Nasser Ali - he's a young musician, and he plays - he says, you're technically wonderful but isn't - he has to nurse that hurt, to make his music reach other people. Do you believe that, as an artist?

SATRAPI: Listen, to tell you the truth, I don't think that you need a huge amount of sufferance because if you suffer too much, normally you finish in the mental hospital. But at the same time, I have to say that - like, sometimes it happens to me that I wake up in the morning, I look at myself in the mirror, I think that I'm very beautiful. You know, the sun is shining; I'm very, very happy. This day, it's impossible that I go to my studio and I draw, and I write something. This day I go out, I buy myself a dress, I call my friends, I have some pina colada - I never create. If we were very happy, we would be like cats. We would lick ourselves, and then sleep and eat. And probably, we would be much happier. But we would be cats.

SIMON: Yeah. May I ask you a couple of questions about Iran, the country?

SATRAPI: Please.

SIMON: Do you know - will "Chicken with Plums" be shown in Iran?

SATRAPI: Well, it's already - the DVD exists, with subtitle. So, you know, it's funny because, you know, when I was 13, you know, I would go - you know, to the black market and buy myself, you know, the cassette of the Rolling Stone and the Clash, and this and that, you know. And now, I am part of the black market.

SIMON: Yeah. I don't want to lose sight of something. A couple of years ago, you appeared before the European Parliament with a document, that you said came from a member of Iran's electoral commission; saying that actually, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had only won about 12 percent of the vote in the last elections there.

SATRAPI: The thing I have to say, you know - well, I'm sure of that because I know my people. And I know that despite whatever they can say, Iranian people - I'm not talking about the government - they are the most pro-Western population in the whole region. They have always been. But I have to say, also, something - that in my life, I went very close to politics. And believe me, the very small hope and belief that I had in the human being, completely disappeared. It flew away. You know, the cynicism that is in the politics, it is not for my soul. It makes me - out of me, an extremely bitter, cynical person that I hate to see in the mirror, really. And when I make a film like that, I will say to myself, people - they will watch it and they will say, this country; that we think about this country only by beard and veil and nuclear weapon. So in this same country, a man died because of the love of a woman. And if they understand that, I have done my duty. I cannot do more than that. That's it.

SIMON: Marjane Satrapi. She has co-directed the new film of her graphic novel, "Chicken with Plums." Thanks so much for being with us.

SATRAPI: That's great, to be with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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