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The Reeler Blog

The Animated Life

By Christopher Campbell

The bad news was that Chiara Mastroianni was unable to make it to Thursday morning's New York Film Festival press screening of Persepolis, the animated closing-night film in which she provides the lead voice. The good news was that she'd be at Sunday's premiere, joined by her mother and co-voice-star, Catherine Deneuve. The even better news (for the press, anyway) was that we didn't need her; co-writer/director Marjane Satrapi stole the show at the post-screening Q&A, talking to the crowd about her life and the projects it has inspired.

From Iran, With Love: Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi at Thursday's NYFF press conference for Persepolis (Photo: Christopher Campbell)

Based on her autobiographical graphic novels, Persepolis relates Satrapi's experience and observation of her native Iran from 1978 -- at the inception of the country's revolution -- to 1994, the year she moved away to France. Beyond reaffirming that French animation is an underrepresented force to be reckoned with, the film also follows American Splendor's lead in demonstrating that a graphic novel may be adapted in a way without redundancy or rendering its source material obsolete -- and it didn't even need to mix media nor change the material to live-action, which is typically understood to be more relatable than "cartoons."

"When you put [live-] action in a certain geographical place, with a certain type of people, then it becomes the story of these people that are far from us," Satrapi told the crowd. "We cannot relate to them. They are not like us. There is something very abstract in a drawing that anybody can relate to. That's why we didn't make anything exotic in the background. It can be Tehran, but it can be Cincinnati; it can be any big city anywhere. We did that on purpose because we wanted everybody to be able to relate to it. That was a choice to make it animation, because we wanted the story to be universal. Because it's a humanistic movie."

Of course, despite featuring animated drawings that somewhat resemble Satrapi's original cartoons from her books, the adaptation just barely resembles its source in terms of design and narrative structure. "It's the wrong idea to think that comics are like a small brother of animation, like a storyboard for animation," said Persepolis co-writer/director Vincent Paronnaud, who joined Satrapi onstage Thursday. "When we started, we had the story, but then we had to create everything around that. In cinema you have the movement, you have the music, you have the sound. So, we couldn't think about it the same way. So the only things left from the comics are the characters."

Could the acclaimed Persepolis usher in more adaptations of other graphic memoirs? The way Satrapi describes her work, none of the versions of Persepolis should even be considered biographies. "The fact is that I have no interest in telling about myself," she said when asked about the possibility of a sequel. "I'm not so self-involved to say that I'm so interesting and my story is so interesting. The reason I put it in the first person is that I don't have any pretension of being a politician or a sociologist or a historian, so that is a one-person point of view. And it is about how the situation changed in one country and how I had to deal with it. So it's not really a story about my life, but how the things changed. And me, as a person, [being] there."

Posted at October 12, 2007 6:32 AM

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