with Co-Writer and Directors
Paronnaud, Art Director Marc Jousset, and
Official Selection 2007 Toronto International Film Festival
Official Selection 2007 Telluride Film Festival
Official Closing Night Selection 2007 New York Film Festival
OFFICIAL FRENCH SELECTION FOR THE 2007 BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Read more about the film at:
About the Crew
(read the interview)
Marjane Satrapi was born in 1969. She grew up in Tehran where she attended the Lycée Français (French high school). She then studied in Vienna before she relocated to France in 1994. In Paris, through fellow comic book artists, she was introduced into the Atelier des Vosges, an artist studio which gathered major, contemporary comic book artists. In her first graphic novel, Persepolis 1, published by L'Association in November 2000, Marjane told the story of the first ten years of her life until the overthrow of the Shah regime and the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war. In Persepolis, published in October 2001, she described the Iraq-Iran war and her teenage years until she left for Vienna at the age of fourteen.
Persepolis 2 dealt with her exile in Austria and her return to Iran. Since then, she has published Embroideries (Broderies) and Chicken with Plums (Poulet aux Prunes). Persepolis is co-directed with Vincent Paronnaud, and is her first feature film.
Vincent Paronnaud -
Vincent Paronnaud a.k.a. Winshluss, was born in 1970 in La Rochelle. He is a major underground comic book artist. Together with his friend and collaborator Cizo, he invented the character of "Monsieur Ferraille", the emblematic figure of the comic "Ferraille Illustré", which he co-edited with Cizo and Felder. His solo projects include Super Négra (1999), Welcome to the Death Club and Pat Boon - Happy End (2001). He gained public recognition when he earned a nomination for Smart Monkey in 2004 and for Wizz and Buzz (with Cizo) in 2007 at the Angoulême Comic Book Festival. Winshluss and Cizo have also co-directed two shorts animations: O'Boy What Nice Legs (B&W - 1 min - 2004) Raging Blues (B&W - 6 min - 2003).
Marc Jousset -
Marc Jousset has directed and produced over 150 animated movies (credits, documentaries, video music, advertising, billboard) and produced 13 shorts films. He has also worked as the script writer and story boarder and background designer for several TV series. In 1996 Jousset started the studio "Je Suis Bien Content" with Franck Ekinci. He served as the art director and executive producer for Persepolis.
Olivier Bernet -
Olivier Bernet is 33 years old and currently lives in Bordeaux, France. Persepolis is Benet's first film score, although he has worked with Vincent Paronnaud prior to Persepolis, as the leader of the duo's band Shunatao. Together they have released 6 albums and will continue their partnership in the future. In addition to Shunatao, Bernet is also part of several other bands, including The Sentimentals, Kiss Kiss Karate Passion and Magnetix.
Creating a graphic novel is a solitary pursuit, unlike the high-intensity teamwork of filmmaking. For years Marjane Satrapi and fellow comic artist Vincent Paronnaud shared a Paris design studio, occasionally drew together, and worked separately but side-by-side.
"My collaboration with Vincent made the film version of PERSEPOLIS possible," says Satrapi. "It had been four years since I'd written and drawn the books of Persepolis, and I felt the work was finished. It was when I started talking with Vincent about the film project that I realized I didn't want to make a film all by myself, and if I was going to do it with anyone, it should be with Vincent and Vincent alone. He was game for it, and I was excited by the challenge. We come from totally different countries, cultures and backgrounds, yet we've always been on the same wavelength. We worked like madmen on PERSEPOLIS for three years, but we never had a single row, although we were always honest with each other."
Paronnaud, who creates daring comics under the penname Winshluss, had already tried his hand at animated film with two short pieces, made with other artists and with animation veteran Marc Jousset, art director on PERSEPOLIS.
"When she asked me to make PERSEPOLIS with her," says Paronnaud, "I couldn't refuse, I loved the book, and I loved Marjane. Her work has a strong, genuine power; the content is as valuable as the design, and it combines humor and emotion, which is quite rare."
Reconstructing a story from scratch
As Satrapi recalls, "When I was writing the books, I had to remember sixteen years of my life, including things I definitely wanted to forget. It was a very painful process. I dreaded starting the script, and couldn't have done it on my own. The hardest part was the beginning, and distancing myself from the existing narrative. We had to start from scratch, to create something altogether different but with the same material. It's a one-of-a-kind piece."
"For three months," says Parronnaud, "We met every day for three to four hours. Neither of us can type, so we used a pencil because it can be erased. We'd read what had been written, crossing out, rewriting, cutting, etc. We had to strike the right balance between the crucial moments and the insignificant details of everyday life. After a while we forgot about the book and just worked on the script."
Translating graphic abstraction to cinematic movement
Inventing a cinematic language for the memoir was a challenge. Says Satrapi, "People generally assume that a graphic novel is like a movie storyboard, which of course is not the case. With graphic novels, the relationship between the writer and reader is participatory. In film, the audience is passive. It involves motion, sound, music, so therefore the narrative's design and content is very different."
The co-directors drew inspiration from live action cinema far outside the canon of animation: "In fact our sources were live action films," says Paronnaud. "I had seen a lot of Italian comedies because my mother loved them. Marjane is very fond of Murnau and German expressionism, so we drew our inspiration from that and then put together what we both liked. Marjane's book is about family life, so the film was going to be based on a central family theme also. The usual codes in animation didn't seem to fit, so I used movie-style editing, with a great many jump-cuts. Even from an aesthetic viewpoint, we drew our sources from cinematic techniques."
Visual inspiration for stylized realism
The animation style, according to Satrapi, "Could be defined as "stylized realism," because we wanted the drawing to be completely life-like, not like a cartoon. Therefore, unlike a cartoon, we didn't have that much of a margin in terms of facial expressions and movement. "
She continues: "I've always been obsessed with the post-war film schools of Italian neo-realism and German expressionism, and soon understood why. In post-WWI Germany, the economy was so devastated that they couldn't afford to shoot films on location, and so they were shot in studios using mood and amazing geometrical shapes. In post-WWII Italy, the same happened, but things turned out the opposite-they shot films in the streets with unknown actors because they had no money. In both schools, you find the kind of hope in people who went through the war and experienced great despair. I am myself a post-war person having lived through the 8-year war between Iraq and Iran. The film is a combination of sorts; of German expressionism and Italian neo-realism. It features very down-to-earth, realistic scenes, and a highly design-oriented approach, with images sometimes bordering on the abstract."
Hundreds of hand-drawn characters
PERSEPOLIS is a hand-drawn work of animation. The co-directors relied on a crew of seasoned animation professionals, including art director Jousset, but Satrapi herself developed and drew every single character-some 600 distinct figures-from the lead characters to crowds of extras. "I drew them all, their fronts and their profiles," explains Satrapi. "Afterwards, the designers and animators drew them from every angle developing their facial expressions and motions."
As Marc Jousset explains, "It was clear that a traditional animation technique was perfectly suited to Marjane's and Vincent's idea of the film. It also seemed logical that Marjane should be able to work with the animators using the tools of her trade, paper and ink."
Jousset continues: "Using only black and white in an animation movie requires a great deal of discipline. From a technical point of view, you can't make any mistakes. As soon as an eye isn't in the right place, or a pupil not perfectly drawn, it shows up straight away on the large screen. It's even more obvious in this particular film since it's not a cartoon with codes, conventions and distortions. We had to develop a specific style, both realistic and mature. No bluffing, no tricks, nothing overcooked. With animation director Christian Desmares, twenty animators worked on the movie.
"Marjane had quite an unusual way of working. Each sequence (1,200 shots) was given to an animator. Marjane insisted on being filmed playing out all the scenes. Given that she's a genuinely talented actress, it was a great source of information for the animators, giving them an accurate approach to how they should work. It was also very encouraging for them that she was so committed and passionate. Usually, in animated movies, directors are rarely so concerned with the day-to-day work on the film."
All told, the film required about 80,000 drawings for around 130,000 images.
The Personal and the Political
Satrapi describes the surreal sensation of looking into a kaleidoscopic mirror: "You can imagine how I felt when I saw my face everywhere, in small, medium and large, as a little girl, a teenager, a young girl, a grown-up, front, back, profile, laughing, vomiting, crying-it was just unbearable! I had to say to myself "It's just a character." It was the same for the other characters because their stories are also real. My grandmother of course, actually existed and lived and died, as did my uncle. I couldn't let emotion get in the way, or else it would have become intolerable for everyone. If they'd seen me with tears in my eyes, they wouldn't have been able to continue with their work."
Says Paronnaud, "Tinkering with somebody else's work is difficult, but this was also somebody's life. Somebody sitting opposite me, somebody I know and love. I could see it was affecting Marjane, so I had to tread carefully, but she was extremely encouraging."
PERSEPOLIS is equally a passionate statement about the personal and the political. "Marjane is leading a fight," says Paronnaud, "So naturally she wanted to make it into a film. But she's a demanding person, with an honest intellectual purpose. She hopes for people to get a different view of Iran from the one they watch on TV or read in the papers. Furthermore, she wants to address the meaning of exile, and what it means for a young girl to be thrown into the midst of historic events that she cannot comprehend."
For Marjane Satrapi, "It is first and foremost a film about my love for my family. However, if Western audiences end up considering Iranians as human beings just like the rest of us, and not as abstract notions like "Islamic fundamentalists," "terrorists," or the "Axis of Evil," then I'll feel like I've done something. Don't forget that the first victims of fundamentalism are the Iranians themselves."
Interview with Vincent Paronnaud - Director
Do you remember your first meeting with Marjane Satrapi?
Six years ago she asked me to share her design studio. I had heard of Marjane, as she was beginning to get a name for herself. I was a bit wary at first, but I reluctantly accepted her offer.
I'm distrustful by nature! What's more, when she rang me up, although we had never met or talked, she sounded overly enthusiastic!
What had your career been like until then?
After dropping out of school at 17, I dabbled in quite a few things; drawing, music, etc...I began publishing graphic novels [under the penname Winshluss], writing serial storyboards and working on animated shorts.
When you read the Persepolis novels, what was your reaction?
Amazed. I was in the studio when Marjane was completing the second volume. In the beginning, I was afraid of her ethnic " Not Without My Daughter" style, and of the girly comic aspect, which, according to the media, characterized Marjane's work. It was in fact, just the opposite; I was swept off my feet. Her work has a strong, genuine power; the content is as valuable as the design, and it combines humor and emotion, which is quite rare.
Do you remember when she first asked you to make an animated feature based on the Persepolis books?
When Marc-Antoine Robert offered to produce Persepolis, she asked me to make the film with her. She was reassured because I had already directed black and white animated shorts. I couldn't refuse, I loved the book, and I loved Marjane. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to do something I had never done before, to work on such an artistically challenging project. It was both appealing and risky.
What sources did you draw upon when you started to think of the film?
We knew we had to keep the energy of the novels. We couldn't be content with filming one panel after another. In fact our sources were live-action films. I had seen a lot of Italian comedies because my mother loved them. Marjane is very fond of Murnau and German expressionism, so we drew our inspiration from that and then put together what we both liked. Marjane's book is about family life, so the film was going to be based on a central family theme also. The usual codes in animation didn't seem to fit, so I used movie-style editing, with a great many jump-cuts. Even from an aesthetic viewpoint, we drew our sources from cinematic techniques.
Did you watch films together before starting to work on Persepolis?
I did watch a few films like The Night Of The Hunter and Touch of Evil, and some action films like Duel which taught me a lot about editing.
When films are well-made, whatever the genre, there are always things to learn. More specifically, how did you manage to write the script together?
For three months, we met everyday for three to four hours. Neither of us can type, so we used a pencil because it can be erased. We'd read what had been written, crossing out, rewriting, cutting, etc... We had to strike the right balance between the crucial moments and the insignificant details of everyday life; it was hard to choose what had to be kept and what to leave out. After a while we forgot about the book and worked on the script.
Unlike the books, the film is a long flashback. How did you come up with the idea of the opening scene in color?
Marjane had told me that one Friday (Friday is the day for flights to Tehran), she was feeling so low that she went to the airport with the intention of leaving. She spent the whole day there, crying and watching the planes taking off. We thought it would be a great opening scene. It conveys a sense of distance, of nostalgia for the story. It was all the more obvious as the film was about exile...
What do you think of her wish to deal with the story again, from a different artistic approach?
Apart from the artistic challenge, Marjane is leading a fight, so naturally she wanted to make it into a film. But she's a demanding person, with an honest intellectual purpose. It's rare to find autobiographical books like Persepolis, written with such modesty, and such little self-indulgence. She wants to make a statement, and hopes for people to get a different view from the one they watch on TV or read in the papers. Furthermore, she wants to address the meaning of exile, and what it means for a young girl to be thrown into the midst of historic events that she cannot comprehend...
Given the personal, autobiographical aspect of Persepolis, was it hard to find your place when you were writing the script?
It was not only hard, it was horrendous! Tinkering with somebody else's work is difficult but this was also somebody's life. Somebody sitting opposite me, somebody I know and love. I could see it was affecting Marjane, so I had to tread carefully, but she was extremely encouraging. The same for the visual aspect of the film; artistically speaking, she gave me free rein. We complemented each other, and there was always a moment when you needed the other's viewpoint or opinion.
What were your main concerns when you started making the film?
As Marjane's characters couldn't be anything but sheer black and white, we focused on the production design. As we couldn't have a black or white background we had to start from scratch. I used pictures of Tehran and Vienna to as inspiration, without being totally dependent on them, and integrated various
grey shades. At the same time we had to bear in mind not to soften the graphic strength of Marjane's universe. We focused on fluent lines, talked a lot with Marc Jousset, and finally came up with a classic design.
As time went by, what was the most difficult hurdle to clear?
Keeping the enthusiasm going. Being under pressure for nearly three years, and trying to sustain our overall vision of the project was difficult. Marjane and I had a rather atypical approach to the codes, and even the work habits of animation. Marc-Antoine knew exactly what we wanted and he had been fighting hard on our behalf. So had Stéphane Roche who was in charge of the compositing. Nothing was ever definitive. We were constantly changing things, testing new ideas, relentlessly improving what had been done. To keep things moving along, a lot of people helped us carry out our project because they understood our goal. The big plus was that everything was within reach at the one point where we worked all together in the studio. If I needed to change something I just went to the office next door and told the person in charge of the sequence. Even if it doesn't sound very original, I think human relationships are key when you make a film.
What surprised you most during the making of the film?
First and foremost, Marjane and I never had a row, despite there being a lot of stress. Marjane was under a great deal of strain. People didn't notice, because she's so enthusiastic and so full of passion and energy, while I'm a bit of a pain in the ass! Marjane has often told me that. Nothing is ever quite right for me. That's
the way I am. What also surprised me was the way I became emotionally involved. I used to think I was rather detached from the subject matter of my work, but there was something so intrinsically emotional about this story. Marjane manages at once to convey these emotions and to remain modest. I wonder how
she does it.
Why did you pick Olivier Bernet to write the score?
We understood what we wanted and he was there with us from the very beginning. I even changed some images in accordance with his suggestions. In Persepolis, music plays a crucial role; it connects the sequences and gives unity to the film.
What particular memory will stay with you from this experience?
Perhaps the first screening of the rough cut. Marjane was sweating, and nearly passed out when she saw herself on screen. She tries hard to forget it's her life being told. It's better that she forgets, otherwise it would be unbearable, both for her and me.
Persepolis' animation was created by two specialised studios: "Je suis bien content" and "Pumpkin 3D".
Interview with Marc Jousset - Art Designer
Why did you decide to produce Persepolis almost completely in a "traditional" way, not using computer generated images?
The question of which technique to use, arose very quickly when we discussed the movie. We started with 2D images on pen tablets, but we were not totally happy with the result. The lines lacked definition. It also seemed logical that Marjane should be able to work with the animators using the tools of her trade; paper and ink. It was clear that a traditional animation technique was perfectly suited to Marjane's and Vincent's idea of the film.
It's an animation film with many characters...
Development took a long time, because of the sheer number of characters. For Marjane's character, there were five separate steps: little girl, pre-teen, teenager, young woman and adult. Since it was also based on real events, and took place in Tehran under the Shah's regime, then under Khomeini's revolution, (not to mention Austria), we had to take into account the way people were dressed. There are scenes taking place at the university, in airports, at a punk concert, so it was impossible to draw only two or three characters. We had to animate a good deal of extras. However, we were lucky. Marjane drew all the characters. I thought we would have 200 model sheets to do, each character seen through different angles, so there was no discrepancy from one shot to the other, but actually we made over 600! I think it's a record for an animated movie.
Did the use of black and white make things particularly difficult for an animated movie?
Using only black and white in an animation movie requires a great deal of discipline. From a technical point of view, you can't make any mistakes. As soon as an eye isn't in the right place, or a pupil not perfectly drawn, it shows up straight away on the large screen. It's even more obvious in this particular film since it's not a cartoon with codes, conventions and distortions. We were closer to Japanese animation because of the story's realism, but we couldn't apply the techniques used in manga. As a result, we had to develop a specific style, both realistic and mature. No bluffing, no tricks, nothing overcooked. With animation director Christian Desmares, twenty animators worked on the movie. Marjane had quite an unusual way of working. Each sequence (1,200 shots) was given to an animator. Marjane insisted on being filmed playing out all the scenes. Given that she's a genuinely talented actress, it was a great source of information for the animators, giving them an accurate approach to how they should work. It was also very encouraging for them that she was so committed and passionate. Usually, in animated movies, directors are rarely so concerned with the day-today
work on the film. After animators, the assistant animators put the finishing touches to the drawings and check them against the original. Marjane's drawings look very simple and graphic, but they're very difficult to work on because there are so few identifying marks. Realistic drawings require outstanding accuracy.
How many drawings were needed for Persepolis?
About 80,000 drawings for around 130,000 images. That's quite reasonable for a feature made in the traditional way.
What do you think are Marjane Satrapi's best attributes?
It's a combination of rigor and generosity. She was always there for you, and never acted like a diva, like filmmakers who pop in once a week to hand out praises and criticisms. Not thinking about what memories this process might rekindle in her, she was totally committed and involved. She even animated certain scenes in the movie. It brought a unique atmosphere to the team and the collaborative effort.
What about Vincent Paronnaud?
His rigor, his eye and his daring. Marjane and Vincent have always favored content, whilst being very respectful to the visual work done. The story always came first. It's not a movie made by technicians. They went to work on Persepolis as though it were a live-action film.
Vincent is very good at artistic direction, composition, playing with black and white, and Marjane masters that as well. She was, however, more focused on the accuracy of emotions and feelings. Each had enough hindsight with his or her work, so that their advice stimulated the other. It's quite amazing to see them
work together. They are a true two-some.
What was the main challenge for you?
To be on schedule, and to stay within budget, whilst maintaining our requirement for high quality. The budget was 6 million Euros, which is reasonable for a 2D movie made in France. I've rarely seen a team so focused on a project, not only for the technical challenge, but also for the story itself. I think the culmination of the fact that it was a true story, that the main character worked with you, that an animated movie dealt with a current issue and that it was intended for adults was tremendously exciting for the team.
Interview with Pascal Chevé (Pumpkin 3 D)
You were the one who suggested to work with a team of traditional animators (trace animators), who hardly exist in France anymore. Why?
It was essential to be true to Marjane's line. An animation studio is a team of over 100 people, all with their own style. An animator will be more focused on trying to make the character move in the right way. Assistant animators will then put the final touches to the drawings, to make sure they're true to the original. Then the "trace" team comes in, and they work on each drawing with a quill pen, a paintbrush or, (as it was the case here), a felt pen, to ensure that they are consistent with the line that runs throughout the movie. Our philosophy was to work on this movie in a traditional way.
What was the most challenging aspect of Persepolis?
I think it was the design of a novel way to make the characters move. For once, we had with us the person who had experienced the events, who could tell us about the characters we were drawing, and the way they would react. Our work was to find a credible way to make them move. We were producing a real movie,
with characters who had true feelings and who were living tragic events. The movie brims with emotions, and the whole team felt that and shared it throughout. It's probably one of the reasons why everybody was so committed.
Interview with Marc-Antoine Robert and Xavier Rigault - (2.4.7. FILMS)
Persepolis is your first production. What is your background?
Marc-Antoine Robert - We have different backgrounds that complement each other. I started working in distribution, then I worked at the CNC in the production department, and finally I was CFO at France 3 Cinéma for five years.
Xavier Rigault - I joined Pathé 14 years ago where I held several positions first within the cinema programming division, then as manager of the first French multiplex, and then within the management of the Pathé-Gaumont grouping. I'm still heading the Pathé-Gaumont programming division, whilst being Marc-
Antoine's partner at 2.4.7. Films.
Did you become a producer for this movie specifically, or were you just waiting for the right moment to start producing, and saw this film as a good opportunity?
Marc-Antoine Robert - Denis Château introduced us and we decided to create 2.4.7 Films together. We wanted to produce movies, but we weren't in any great hurry because we both had fulfilling jobs. We were looking for the right project. I happened to know the new generation of French comic book artists quite well, and I'm a friend of Marjane's. I offered to write an original script for her, because I didn't want to work on an animated movie at all! At France 3 Cinéma, we'd produced a few of them, so I knew how complicated it was. Finally, we ended up having this crazy idea to adapt Persepolis, and turn it into a black and white
Xavier Rigault - We were convinced by the power of the subject matter, the originality of the project, and Marjane's and Vincent's artistic drive. I don't read that many graphic novels, but I remember reading Persepolis, and feeling it was something new and unprecedented. Beyond the strong statement it makes on the rise of fundamentalism in the East, Persepolis tells a deep, universal story about integrity. As for the black and white, we stopped fretting when Marc- Antoine dug up a letter from Truffaut, written at the time of Confidentially Yours (Vivement Dimanche), in which he listed all the recent masterpieces in black and
What was the budget of the movie?
Marc-Antoine Robert - Six million Euros. It's slightly above average for a French movie, but it's a regular budget for an animation film.
Xavier Rigault - For a movie that was entirely made in France, and not using CGI, it's quite reasonable.
Kathleen Kennedy, who is a friend and producer of Spielberg's, is credited as associate producer. How did she get involved in the project?
Marc-Antoine Robert -She'd sent an email to Marjane to buy the rights to Persepolis.
Xavier Rigault - We told her that we had already aquired it, and that the movie was in pre-production, but we'd left some room open for discussion. Kathleen Kennedy is one of those few people whom you can't ignore! We sent her the script, she thought it was fantastic, and told us she'd do her best to help us out, and she did. She found us an American distributor, Sony Classics. They bought the movie before it was finished, which is extremely rare. She then helped us find American voices for the movie.
Did you decide at the beginning that this film would be made in a traditional way, And that you needed to open an animation studio for that?
Marc-Antoine Robert - It became obvious very quickly. When you see the original graphic novel, you can't envisage a Pixar adaptation! When we wrote the script, it was really about adapting the story for the screen. We decided with Marjane and Vincent that there would have to be an adaptation of the graphic feel of the book, not simply a transposition. Having just black and white hues was not possible; it would have been too much of an artistic constraint.
Xavier Rigault -That was probably what took us the longest: to find the right graphic charter to bring the novel's atmosphere to the screen. For three months, Marjane and Vincent did quite a bit of research, testing ideas to find out how they looked like on a big screen.
Marc-Antoine Robert - At the same time, we were making headway on the animation front. Marjane and Vincent are creative and responsible. As soon as we got the first piece of funding, we considered opening a studio. It was as if the autobiographical aspect of the film made it necessary. We thought that all the animators and artists needed to be able to speak to Marjane and Vincent on a daily basis... Both of them were present at the studio, and always available for everyone.
Xavier Rigault - What I found very moving, was Marjane's ability to recreate her own work in a different way. It was a second personal and artistic adventure for her.
Marc-Antoine Robert - Obviously, the story does belong to Marjane, but when you 're familiar with Vincent's work, you sense the introduction of pieces of his own world.
What memory of the whole adventure will stay with you?
Marc-Antoine Robert -There are so many, but I would go for our very first session of work in December 2004. Marjane introduced us to Vincent, and they told us the storyline. They kept talking and talking and told us everything. There was a guy at the table next to us, and when he got up to leave, he said: "I hope your project works out, it sounds amazing!" I've never forgotten this man.
Xavier Rigault - It was a beautiful moment of human experience...
Marc-Antoine Robert - There was an interesting feel to the project. On the one hand the staggering workload, and on the other, people who were totally involved and focused, and still having heaps of fun! I also remember the first 35 mm screening of the footage on a wide screen. Marjane almost passed out, and she probably drank five cognacs afterwards to feel better!
Interviews by Jean-Pierre Lavoignat, March-April 2007.
 Compositing: digital techniques combining images from several sources to create a single shot. Compositing has replaced the celluloiud technique which consisted in superimposing several images to obtain a final single image.
... Payvand News - 12/31/07 ... --