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MAGIC IN THE MAKING: Marjane Satrapi's Cinephilic Choice for Persepolis Cast



Magic in the Making : Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi make
their Dream Come True in a French Production on an Iranian Story
© & photocomposition DK

The announcment of the Prix du Jury aka Jury Prize at the 60th annual of the International Cannes Film Festival on the 27th of May, 2007 will probably remain in the heart and minds of Marjane Satrapi and her co-director Vincent Paronnaud for many years to come as the accomplishment of two years of hard and strenuous work. If her animated movie did not earn the Palme D'Or, it was nevertheless an acknowledgment far beyond her expectations by the most Prestigious film Festival in the World and its Jury of professionals. Indeed rarely has any animated film been selected and even less Awarded at Cannes. It is not just Satrapi's work that has been celebrated but that of an entire Art Form, the comic book and animated film version that has often been reduced to a minor form of entertainment. Few missed to notice the films artistic and emotional qualities so often associated to feature films. It also got a rare 20 minutes Standing Ovation upon its first screening at the Festival which hinted that the film may indeed be selected in at least one category. However Satrapi's victory is certainly to make history for the Persian Arts Community in general but also for the Iranian Diaspora community and its artists who have been living and working in exile for more than 28 years since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that forced many to leave definitively their country. Not surprising then to see Satrapi dedicate her Prize to All Iranians upon receiving the Jury Prize despite what she considers rightly a universal film with humanist Message. If Marjane Satrapi's story is a very personal one, if indeed it is told through the eyes of a child turned teenager and confronted to the harsh realities of life, politics and history in her home country then in exile, it is nevertheless a story which has a universal appeal that explains its success ever since its publication by a fairly unknown publishing house. Its true that there is something greatly genuine and sincere about Persepolis. The comic book approach however does not reduce it to a childish entertainment. It makes it on the contrary even more cinematically powerful because it deals with adult issues through a so-called naïve outlook on events that truly took place and shook the lives of millions of her compatriots for better and for worse. Inspired in its political approach to Art Spiegelman's Maus which denounces the horrors of the Holocaust through its depiction by Animals very much like George Orwell in Animal Farm. It is not only subversive from an Iranian point of view but also for the Western mindset. It is hardly surprising that the current Iranian leadership heavily criticized the movie's screening at Cannes and fortunately with the opposite consequences. The Islamic Republic's reaction to the movie's success and screening proved if needed that Persepolis, like most Art Work made with a free spirit and independent mindset is something that disturbs censors all the more when these censors serve dictatorial governments. Was it not Dariush Mehrjui's "Gaav" that was censored under the Shah's Regime for its outlook on Iranian rural life ? Similarly was it not Abbas Kiarostami's only political film Gozaresh ( 1977) that paradoxically despite its dark and negative outlook on Iranian society under the Imperial regime was only censored under the current theocratic regime ? In addition Persepolis does indeed disturb the Western Mindset in its depiction of the young Satrapi's cultural confusion. Consciously or unconsciously Satrapi is in phase with the works of Montesquieu in Les Lettres Persanes aka Persian Letters or Voltaire with Zadig. She uses her characters so-called naivety or rather innocence to highlight the shortcomings in Western education and highlights the fact that prejudice, ignorance and stupidity can also be found in so-called civilized and nevertheless Western democratic societies. The misfits like Punk classmates she befriends in Austria or fellow students in France are as much victims of society's prejudice's as much as herself when she is arrested by Revolutionary guards or Zeynab Sisters in charge of maintaining social moral dress codes and behaviour. If the Comic book was an international Hit, the film, whether it becomes a blockbuster or not, will definitively reach Cult status with millions of Aficionados worldwide and not just amongst comic book fans. Satrapi's film is first and foremost a French Film on a Persian/Iranian subject. The choice of the actors who are doing the voiceovers in the French version prove not only an eye for casting but a genuine love and admiration for films in general. It is also a tribute to some of the greatest actors and film genre's of European Cinema ...


The Daughter: Marjane aka
Chiara Mastroianni an inherited beauty
©Paris Match &


Satrapi confessed in a recent interview that her choice for Deneuve was not entirely innocent: "There are two Major French Stars that Iranians Love: Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve". The rebellious Iranian girl who grew up identifying herself with Bruce Lee rather than the Romantic Star of such film classics like Jacques Demy's musical "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg", or Terrence Young Mayerling would certainly have been seduced by the more controversial yet sophisticated portrayals in such films as François Truffaut's Dernier Metro set in WWII occupied France, Roman Polanski's Horror Thriller Repulsion, or Luis Buñuel's surrealist erotic drama Belle de Jour ( script written by the great Jean Claude Carriere: See my article ). Despite her striking familiar looks to Hollywood Star Grace Kelly, Deneuve is more probably the Female French version of Cary Grant. As shocking an assessment, I maintain this. She can equally play in classy thrillers in the lines of a genre defined by Alfred Hitchcock as in Alain Corneau's Le Choix des Armes , yet equally demonstrate an onscreen fragility in films like Place Vendome under the direction of Nicole Garcia. Why the comparison with Cary Grant ? Well very much like Grant, she is unpredictable in her film choices going from drama, to historical epics and even Comedy ( in which I personally think she is truly the best ) where she often mocks her own sophisticated onscreen persona in such films like François Ozon's 8 femmes, Jean Paul Rappenau's Le Sauvage , Philippe Le Broca's L'Africain or more recently in a hilarious comedy Palais Royal a French Comic Spoof on European Royalty directed by French Comic Valérie Lemercier.


The Mother:
Catherine Deneuve, the ultimate
French Star combines a touch of class and
humanity necessary to her role
© &

Very much like Cary Grant, she also entertained a certain onscreen sexual ambiguity as in films like Ozon's 8 femmes or in André Techiné's Les Voleurs or as the Lesbian Vampire opposite David Bowie in The Hunger . Ironic but bold choices for an actress who is anything but gay, and is the quintessential icon of French Feminity Worldwide. A happy  irony also that her offspring is no other than the beautiful actress Chiara Mastroianni daughter of her relationship with Italian Heart throb Marcello Mastroianni. Chiara was born amidst the release of a movie meant to be a Franco-Italian Farce entitled "A Slightly Pregnant Man" with Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni in the title roles. The film has in itself some "Felliniesque" aura that would certainly please and strike the imagination of Satrapi. Indeed the movie was a comedy about a Man ( played by Marcello) who discovers he is Pregnant to his wife (played by Deneuve) .... Needless to say the movie was a Huge Scandal for its time ( early 70's) but contributed to sealing a life long relationship between the two Stars. Eversince her performance in the Oscar Awarding film Indochine in 1992 Deneuve has appeared as a mentor to new talents. Interestingly prior to Marjane Satrapi she also brought to the limelight another young talent Singer/actress Bjork the 2000 Cannes Palme D'Or film Dancer in the Dark directed by Lars Von Trier.


A great fan of Italian Cinema, Satrapi's choice of Chiara may
not be entirely a coincidence.
Marcello Mastroianni
was égerie and the onscreen alter ego to Italian film
Federico Fellini. ©


Marcello Mastroianni has entered film History with his immortal scene in the Trevi Fountain opposite Anita Ekberg in Fellini's masterpiece La Dolce Vita which won the Cannes Palm d'Or of 1960 and an Oscar Award and 3 Oscar category nomination's that year. Mastroianni was the sulphurous onscreen alter ego to Fellini in several other highly acclaimed yet controversial at the time of their release: 8 ½ directed by Fellini, La Grande Bouffe by Marco Ferreri, and Ettore Scola's Una Giornata particolare opposite Sophia Loren which confirmed both actors for their performances at the pinnacle of Italian Cinema of the late 70's. Sadly the death of Mastroianni in the mid 90's from pancreatic cancer, three years after his great Master Fellini marked the end of a glorious chapter in Italian Cinema that has never quite recovered since ...

Chiara Mastroianni, has certainly inherited the beauty and talent of her parents. She managed to overcome the burden of a famous name to draw her own personal path and become the égerie of the French Cinema d'Auteurs of the 1990's and this decade. With often bold roles in phase with the preoccupations of her generation in such films like Le Journal d'un Seducteur or N'Oublie Pas Que Tu Va Mourir. Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis will certainly be a breakthrough from many often depressing or over intellectual roles in which she has been typcast to date. She is also a singer and wife of French singer/composer Benjamin Biolay.


The Father:
Simon Akbarian filmography is influenced by his
French-Armenian roots, but he was also cast as a villain in the
latest James Bond Casino Royale


French Armenian actor Simon Akbarian is a familiar face to movie buffs, for his supporting roles often cast as a villian like in the latest James Bond vehicle Casino Royale opposite Daniel Craig. And his filmography is strongly influenced by his roots as in films like Canadian Atom Egoyan's film Ararat a very interesting film about the Armenian Genocide but seen through the eyes of a modern film crew. More recently he played in the lead role of director Sally Potter in a film entitled YES a Romantic Drama dealing with issues on immigration and racial prejudice. The film is luminous, elegant, ravishingly beautiful, subtly erotic.


The Grandma: Danielle Darrieux, a living legend in Film History.
She also played Alexander the Great's mother Olympias in
Robert Rossen's 1956 epic ©


Most probably Marjane Satrapi's most interesting cinephilic choice has been to cast French Cinema Living Legend Danielle Darrieux. The 90 year old Star of such great films as Joseph L. Mankiewicz "5 Fingers" aka Cicero Affaire as well as many films directed by Max Ophuls like the Roundabout and House of Pleasure or the first film version of erotic novel Lady Chatterly. Her career has spanned over the past century and she has shared the screen opposite such great French and Hollywood Stars as James Mason, Errol Flynn, Richard Burton, Charles Boyer and Gerard Philippe. Interestingly she also was cast as Alexander the Great's mother, Olympias decades before Angelina Jolie in Robert Rossen's much more accurate depiction of the Macedonian Conqueror. Interesting Irony to see her play a major protagonist in Satrapi's Persepolis.


The Family ©Cannes International Film Festival

Maybe that is the Magic of Art after all and ultimately its true duty: To bridge cultures and people beyond Man made frontiers be them political, social, sexual, ideological, or religious. It is all the more respectable when it resonates with so many people all over the world as has been the case for Persepolis. I would also dare and add that Persepolis today and maybe more so now that it came out as a feature animated film, no longer truly belongs to its author and creator. Once you give birth to such a highly acclaimed work of Art, that has been translated in dozens of languages, taught in hundreds of Universities across the US and even at WestPoint as a case study to Middle East psychology and sociology, one can only ponder at the phenomena with admiration. Very much like J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter, Satrapi's Persepolis belongs to our collective memory. We can Love it or Hate it but we certainly cannot be indifferent to the adventures of the proud Iranian girl with the cute "Khal" (*) on her nose ...


Marjane Satrapi ©Persepolis, L'Association 2007


Authors notes:

(*) A birthmark she shares with Chiara Mastroianni also known for a similar one on her chin.


Recommended Reading :

Satrapi's Persepolis wins "Prix du Jury" at Cannes by Darius KADIVAR

Satrapi Launches Official Website & Production Blog by Darius KADIVAR

Persepolis Runs In Cannes Palme D'or Selection 2007 by Darius KADIVAR

On Iran and French Cinema:

Iranian Pioneers in French New Wave Cinema by Darius KADIVAR

Anicée (ALVINA) Shahmanesh: France's Sex Icon of the 1970's by Darius KADIVAR

On Iran and Italian Cinema:

Excellent interview and Great Photos of Iranian filmmaker Parvin Ansary with Italian Stars of 50's and 60's.

The Last Colony : An interview with Film director Parvin Ansary by Brian Appleton (

Recommended Viewing :

Rare images on you tube of the 20 minutes Standing Ovation for Persepolis at Cannes after first screening.



About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a freelance journalist and Film Historian born to an Iranian father and French mother. He works and lives in France.

© Copyright 2007 (All Rights Reserved)