Iranian-born French author-turned-filmmaker Marjane Satrapi is a wonderfully dark and compelling storyteller. Best known for her acclaimed graphic novel, Persepolis, which she turned into an Oscar-winning animated feature, her new film, Chicken with Plums, opened at the Angelika in New York last week. On a recent visit to Manhattan, she chatted with Jauretsi about death, Prozac, and the gay Batman movie she hopes to one day make ...
Jauretsi: How are you feeling today, Marjane?
Marjane Satrapi: Today, I’m fine. Yesterday, I was throwing up everywhere, but today it’s okay.
Glad to hear it! The characters in Chicken with Plums deal with some pretty heavy issues, like depression and suicide, yet the film still manages to be uplifting. How did you pull that off?
I just wanted to be very real because the thing that interests me most in life is the nature of the human soul. Yes, this guy [in Chicken with Plums] is unbearable. Yes, this guy does not love his kids, because obviously there are lots of people who don’t love their kids. Today, if you talk about kids and their parents, all the parents say they really love their children. But somebody has to explain to me: Where do all the miserable adults come from? I mean, somewhere the equation doesn’t work. So the whole thing for me as a director is to show the possibility that each human being can have his one glorious moment, and to accept that other moments exist and that melancholia is an okay thing, and that being depressed can be a good thing.
We can’t all be "on" and happy all the time. I like to be depressed. I like my melancholy. I like to be sad. This film is the story of a guy who is depressed, who decides to die, and so he dies. And that is it. Though if you say it like that, its sounds like a boring subject. [laughs]
Life is about peaks and troughs, you’re saying. You can't taste the sweet without the bitter...
No, it’s impossible. And at the same time, you cannot create drama on top of drama. You cannot create comedy on top of comedy. If you want to create a comic situation, you have to have drama, too.
Your version of the grim reaper in the film is pretty funny, all things considered...
Yes, exactly! I am obsessed by the idea of death but I just can’t imagine some old man coming to visit with a skeleton face. I’m going to have to face death one day, whether I want to or not, but I hope it looks like my version.
Your own life has had some peaks and troughs as well. You went from being homeless to winning an Oscar. Was there an "aha" moment when you decided to get off the streets?
The thing is, I always thought that I was someone. And I think that it’s very good for everybody, because everyone is a someone. No one is a no one. It’s why I hate the expression, “That guy is a loser.” In life, there is no losing. Losing compared to what? Winning compared to what? What is that? So even when I was homeless I was sure that it was not my destiny. I was like, Okay, I’m homeless now, but for sure something is going to change. And if I was to redo my life, I would like to be homeless again because it has this plus. Once you have lived three months on the streets and know all the dangers that it means when you’re 17-years-old, you know that nothing worse can happen in your life. It’s total freedom. I mean, every time I face a difficulty, I think, Fuck, at least I’m not dead! Some people don’t like me? Fuck them. I don’t like them either. That is the biggest freedom. To have done things on your own and survived. I will tell you, when I was nominated for the Oscar, for many months people assisted me. Like, if I wanted a sandwich, I had a sandwich; I wanted to wipe my ass, somebody was there. I didn’t like that at all, because I have one principle in my life: If I can do something myself, nobody else should do it. The moment I need to be assisted—that I need to have people around me—I’m not free anymore.
You really hate having to depend on others …
Listen, when I came back to Paris the first thing I did was wash and iron all the sheets that were already washed. I wanted to say, Okay, now it’s me who takes care of my own clothes. I don’t need anybody to assist me, I don’t want anybody to come brush my hair or put things on my face. I don’t need it. I also understood something new. I made the first film [Persepolis] and got all the imaginary things you can achieve. Then I said to myself, Okay, I have lived that. Is that why I want to make movies? No, it’s not. Because it’s very boring this red carpet stuff. You are always with this dress that is too tight, you are stressed, you have gas [laughs]. It’s not fun at all! It’s very good for your vanity, so you think you are very special, but it lasts about a month or two.
What’s the next important story you want to tell?
I have a story that I have to write down because it’s still very, very vague in my head. I had a grandmother who was a real asshole. I mean, so bad. She put so much energy into being nasty, and I always told her if she had put this energy into physics she would have been Albert Einstein. Anyway, I heard she left the home of her father dressed like a man. She escaped to marry the man that she loved. And what is interesting to me is how somebody with such a fire in her, so much love, became this dry, nasty person. What makes this person tick? This is the story that I want to tell.
Ambiguous Super Heroes
What sorts of books did you read as a kid?
Lots of Batman comics, because that was the only superhero that I liked because he was so dark. He was nasty back then. Superman? He’s really not too interesting. I hate him. He’s, like, the nice guy. But Batman, he was full of hate, and he is sitting in this tower in Gotham City. As a child, I didn't really know what was going on between him and Robin. I knew something was not completely normal but I didn’t know what it was [laughs]. It would actually be my dream to make a Batman movie, because nowadays when they make the movie, Batman is a heterosexual guy who is really nice, who likes women, and who is, like, the really cute, sweet guy. In reality, he is a fucking asshole full of hate and homosexual tendencies. I would like to make a Batman like that! [laughs]
Other than a homosexual Batman picture and the story of your nasty grandmother, what’s next?
I would like to make lots of things. I would like to make a film about murdering, like, a serial killer and things like that. There are so many things I want to do.
(Photo Credit: Jauretsi)