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Report From Europe by Darius KADIVAR 

Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud announce first of two new live action movies in the making to complete "Persepolis" trilogy

Photocomposition ©DK

 Directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud were back on the French Croisette in Cannes, but this time not to present a new movie but announce the making of two in a near future. The First En Attendant Azrael aka Waiting for Azrael will start shooting on the 19th of July at the Legendary Babelsberg Studios in Berlin and will be followed by Le Onzième Laureate aka The Eleventh Laureate described by it's creators as something of a Western Spaghetti with a Persian Flavour, set on the Caspian Sea. Given the wild imagination of the creative team behind this new cinematic adventure, there has been much speculation as to what will be the outcome and definitive onscreen result of what is meant to also be a visual tribute to cinema history and film aesthetics notably in the use of Technicolor and Cinemascope as means of illustration.

Photocomposition ©DK

Three years ago the fairly unknown talented duet of first time directors Marjane Satrapi (author of the comic books) and Vincent Paronnaud (nicknamed Winshluss, also a comic book author and artist) mesmerized the Cannes Jury with their animated film entitled Persepolis about the childhood and young adult memories of an Iranian girl amidst the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the bloody and tragic Iran-Iraq War, the Islamic Republic's cultural revolution and experiences of growing up in exile. The serious historical and political backdrop of the story did not overshadow the dark humor, the collaborative cinematic imagination and personal outlook of it's directors in the film adaptation of Satrapi's best selling comic book for which the film and it's directors received not only numerous international critical acclaims (a Cannes Jury Award, Two Césars du Cinema Français aka the French Oscars®, Golden Globe and Oscar© Nominations) but also a worldwide Box office Hit, turning even it's DVD release into something of a cult movie buffs must haves ...

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The experience acquired by the two partners on this animated film although hectic to their own admission given the technicalities relevant to the genre (drawing each of the images Frame by Frame while coordinating a team of graphic artists, animators, editors and sound engineers to achieve the final result of a full length animated movie) was first and foremost a golden opportunity to work with real life actors and not the least: Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, or Danielle Darrieux all of whom represented in their own right quintessential movie stars belonging to three different generations and eras in French Cinema. The working process was a great initiation to movie making in general for each animated scene was rehearsed live in the studio as if they were working on a live action movie. Once the voice and movements were recorded, the graphic and animation departments would do the rest to complete each scene into the final animated format using the original physical and vocal expressions of the actors.

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As a result, the former comic book artists used to a solitary work confined to their intimate and limited environment were to thrust themselves into an entirely different discipline that of: Team Work.

Studio Ciné Live Editor in Chief Jean-Pierre Lavoignat interviews Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
during the 63rd Cannes International Film Festival. A Rare Glimpse into the Sets of the movie currently in pre-production at the Babelsberg Studios in Berlin. The Film is due to start shooting on July 19th. Questioned about Jafar Panahi and the situation in Iran, Satrapi expresses her concern and support for his colleague and her people's struggle for democracy and human rights.

There was already a world of difference between the original comic book Persepolis and its film adaptation. This time the challenge will be even bigger and certainly more exciting on Chicken with Plums for it will be a genuine feature film, shot in live action and with real sets, only partially based on Satrapi's successful follow up album to Persepolis which was renamed Waiting for Azrael:

The heartrending story of a celebrated Iranian musician who decides to give up his life for music and love. When Nasser Ali Khan, the author's great-uncle, discovers that his beloved instrument is irreparably damaged, he takes to his bed, renouncing to the world and all of its pleasures. Over the course of the week that follows, we are treated to vivid scenes of his encounters with family and friends, flashbacks to his childhood, and flash-forwards to his children's future. And as the pieces of his story fall into place, we begin to understand the breadth of his decision to let go of life: the failed love affair with the woman of his life, whom he has met again by chance ...

The poignant story of one man, is also a stunningly universal and luminous tale of life and death, and the courage and passion both require of us.

Beyond the technical and creative challenges, Satrapi and Paronnaud had to overcome a financial challenge of finding people willing to produce their next project.

Documentary on the History of Cinemascope part 1 of 2 - in praise of widescreen (1992)

Documentary on the History of Cinemascope part 2 of 2 - in praise of widescreen (1992)

The financial meltdown of recent years that hit all sectors of the world economy did not spare the film industry either. For this new film project (announced in the immediate aftermath of the international success of their first movie Persepolis in 2007), was at one point seriously considered to be abandoned, were it not for the tenacity of it's
iconoclast directors and loyal stamina of their associate producer/distributor at Celluloid Dreams (a company run by a French Iranian Expat Hengameh Panahi).  

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To complicate matters, the film was not to be their only project but the first of two live action movies aimed at completing the initial Persepolis story in the form of a Trilogy (albeit the first being an animated film as opposed to the two feature films in line).

The third film will also be based on a comic book currently being completed for publication by Satrapi under the title Le Onzième Laureate aka The Eleventh Laureate. The plot will serve as screenplay once filming Waiting for Azrael will be completed.

In an interview to a French magazine Iconophage in 2005, Satrapi summed her story as such:

It is the story of my paternal grandmother (as opposed to her maternal grandma in Persepolis), the Eleventh woman to obtain her high school degree (baccalaureate) in a small town on the Russian Frontier next to the Caspian Sea. It's the story of a woman who lived her life to the tilt, fleeing her father's home disguised as a man in dramatic circumstances. My great grandfather (her grandma's father) killed his brother to marry his wife. The culture in this region of Iran is so similar to that of Russia. Everything is always dramatic ... equally crazy and tragic! It's probably because of the climate in that region or has to do with what they eat ... dunno ... (Laughs) but in any case that makes their characters so interesting. At the age of 65 my grandma suddenly had a guilty conscience and became religious because she feared she may die soon and go to hell. So she decided to go for a hajj to Mecca and renounced completely to her past. She would never speak about her youth anymore but from time to time, I could hear her say something and then the contrary which would make her angry. My grandma was really a bitch, probably the worst person on earth one could imagine. I mean she was a real Bitch (laughs) ... but I try to show in my books at least that the world is far more complicated and complex than we imagine, and nothing is black or white in life. She was not a likeable person but I want to try and explain why some things about her make me still like her or at least be touched by her personality. For instance my grandma actually had 18 grandchildren (including me) since she had four sons. I was the only person who could answer her back because I made her laugh. I guess there was some kind of mutual respect between us and that made her comfortable in her conversations or relations with me. The story starts during WWII ... as a matter of fact for Europeans just like Americans as a matter of fact; World War Two is always seen as the most important historical event of the 20th century. For us Iranians however, that has never been the case, because not much happened to us during that time to be honest. As a matter of fact in Persian the word "Nazi" is a girl's name which means "gracious" or "cute" if you will ... even my politically left wing parents hesitated to give me that name, which proves if needed that our planet is truly round and that anyone can claim that he or she stands at it's center. In the end of the day it is a question of perspective don't you think?" 

For Waiting for Azrael the excitement is all the more intense for the two directors given that the film will include an even larger and prestigious cast than on Persepolis. Just to give you a taste in advance here are some names involved: French Stars Mathieu Amalric (Awarded at Cannes this year for La Tourné as Best director), Chiara Mastroianni (already partners with Satrapi and Paronnaud on Persepolis in the title role of Marjane), Djamel Debbouze (Hors La Loi, Indigènes) , Edouard Baer (Molière, Les Brigades du Tigre) and Eric Caravaca, Portuguese actress/director Maria De Medeiros (Pulp Fiction, Babel), legendary Italian film star Isabella Rossellini ( daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rosselini) as well as recently exiled Iranian film star Golshifteh Farahani (Body of Lies, About Elly) in her first European film.

Marjane Satrapi and French Movie Star Vincent Perez
on the Red Carpet Photocall at Cannes, 2010

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The fact that the film will be shot at the Legendary Babelsberg Studios in Berlin is also of interest.

Excerpt from Cinema Europe, on some silent German film gems

Satrapi and
Paronnaud had already demonstrated their admiration for German Expressionist Cinema, particularly Fritz Lang's use of black and white diagonal patterns and shadows in such great films as Metropolis (1927) or M (1931). (See
Recommended Watching Below)

Given that In style, narration and dark humor, Satrapi's Persepolis was largely influenced
by Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize Special Award, there is little doubt as to the movie buff fascination of the duet directors for the works of German expressionist filmmakers such as Robert Wiene's  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) as well as for F.W. Murnau's Fantasy Horror films like Nosferatu (1922, based on the legend of Dracula) or of their admiration for the wild imagination of Josef von Báky who directed The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (which was to also inspire Terry Gilliam's 1988 remake ). One can easily imagine that working at the Babelsberg Studios where Josef von Sternberg shot Blue Angel (1930) shortly prior to Adolf Hitler's rise to power and which propelled Marlène Dietrich to International stardom (only to see the rise of Nazism force her into exile with the promise of a brilliant Hollywood career ahead) will be an inspiring moment for a director like Satrapi given her own personal odyssey equally as an artist, movie enthusiast as well as an exiled Iranian who knows too well the price of freedom.

The best we can do now is to patiently cross our fingers and await the movie's completion due to start shooting on July 18th and wish our two talented former cartoonists turned into full time movie directors to renew their 2007 success with their upcoming first live action film.

En Attendant Azrael ...


Authors Notes:

Official Website: Babelsberg Studios

Recommended Watching:

On German Expressionist Cinema:

Selected Scenes from Fritz Lang's  Metropolis (To Watch Click Here )

"M" Fritz Lang movie trailer starring Peter Lorre
(who later went to work in Hollywood) -( To Watch Click Here)

Marlene Dietrich in
Josef von Sternberg Blue Angel - ( To Watch German Trailer Click Here, To Watch English Version Click Here)

French New Wave Director, Jean Luc Goddard ( actually Swiss) interviews Fritz Lang in between scenes of Le Mepris, in which the German director played a cameo role as himself. (To Watch Click Here)

Recommended Readings:

On Cannes 2010:

On Diaspora Cinema:

Iranian Pioneers in French New Wave Cinema by Darius KADIVAR
In The Shadows of Cinematography with Darius Khondji By Darius KADIVAR
BRAVO MESDAMES!: Aghdashloo, Neshat, Reza and Farahani Shined Through 2009 Summer Season's International Awards by Darius KADIVAR
Banned Hollywood Dream: Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani troubled over a Body of Lies By Darius KADIVAR
A Director's Cut: Cyrus Nowrasteh film The Stoning of Soraya M. By Darius KADIVAR
Enduring Friendship: Alain Delon and Shahbanou Farah by Darius KADIVAR
Delon Meets Farah By Darius KADIVAR

On Persepolis/Satrapi:

MARJANE SUR TOUS LES FRONTS ! Marjane Satrapi's artistic and political activism, highlighted in the French Media amidst Iran's post-election turmoil by Darius KADIVAR
BREAKING THE WAVES: Iranian Women of the Diaspora Seduce French Media by Darius KADIVAR
MAGIC IN THE MAKING: Satrapi's Cinephilic Choice for Persepolis Cast by Darius KADIVAR
DEUX FOIS: Persepolis Wins 2 French Oscars and Enters French Film History! By Darius KADIVAR
The Eye of the Tiger and the Persepolis Generation  by Darius KADIVAR
Allez Marjane! by Darius KADIVAR
Persepolis to Represent France at Hollywood Oscars 2008! by Darius KADIVAR
Persepolis Nominated for European Oscars! by Darius KADIVAR
Persepolis Tops French Box Office Record! by Darius KADIVAR
Satrapi's Persepolis Soundtrack CD Released by Darius KADIVAR
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 Iranians in French Cinema:

VIVE LE CINEMA!: Iranians Finally Connect with World Cinema in 2007's eventful year By Darius KADIVAR
Iranian Pioneers in French New Wave Cinema by Darius KADIVAR
An Independent Eye : Hengameh Panahi Producer Distributor in France by Darius KADIVAR
Anicée (ALVINA) Shahmanesh: France's Sex Icon of the 1970's by Darius KADIVAR
Adieu L'Artiste : Philippe Khorsand French Iranian Actor dies Age 59 by Darius KADIVAR

About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is also contributes to
OCPC Magazine in LA/US and to the London Based IC Publications The Middle East Magazine and Persian Heritage Magazine.

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