The girl behind ‘Persepolis’

Marjane Satrapi has never been a conventional thinker. That’s part of what has made her autobiographical graphic novel “Persepolis,” about a feisty Iranian girl coming of age in repressive times, such a success, and her film based on the book such a delight.

She is, after all, the writer of an illustrated blog for The New York Times who kindled a firestorm of controversy with an unapologetic column titled “I Don’t Want to Stop Smoking.”

Originally a painter, Satrapi found herself repulsed by the elitism of the gallery system. “I always wanted to do something that everybody could have access to,” the 38-year-old artist recalls. It was Art Spiegelman's graphic novel “Maus” that pointed her in a new direction.

Like many, Satrapi had believed that comic books were not for adults: “And suddenly you read ‘Maus’ and you are like, ‘OH! This is a great story! And this is not genre writing!’ It was a big inspiration.”

Although the first script that Satrapi and co-director Vincent Paronnaud wrote for “Persepolis” was twice the length of the final draft, Satrapi has no tales of editorial agony. “I’d already had to make choices in creating the book — 400 pages cannot hold an entire 16 years of someone’s life, unless this person has had a very miserable life!”

“Of course you would like to include everything,” Satrapi admits, “butyou cannot. I am not a neurotic artist, I am a pragmatic one,” she adds. “I am here to serve the film, the film is not here to serve me.”

Satrapi and Paronnaud bucked the tide by eschewing computer animation for their film. Satrapi drew the originals for each of the 600 characters, after which their team used traditional tracing techniques.

“What we wanted to keep from the original book was this line that is a bit shaky, this line that is not perfect,” Satrapi says. “Also, Vincent and I are not very much computer people. I mean, I hardly even know how to send an e-mail!”

Satrapi also issues a challenge to conventional film categorization.

“Animation is not a genre — it’s a media,” she insists. “It’s just a way of telling a story. ‘Persepolis’ to us was a movie, and it just happens that this movie is drawn.”

It’s a compelling view, one that is gaining support: “Persepolis” won the jury award at the Cannes Film Festival — in competition with other movies, none animated.

France chose to submit “Persepolis” to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. “Persepolis” is also one of 12 first-round competitors for Best Animated Feature Film. (Finalists for these categories will be announced Jan. 22.)

The Iranian government pressured international film festivals to reject “Persepolis,” but with the exception of one Bangkok festival, was unsuccessful.

Satrapi confirms that an English-language-dubbed version of “Persepolis”will be released soon. Catherine Deneuve and Charo Mastroianni reprise their roles in English; Sean Penn, Iggy Pop and Gena Rowlands join the cast.

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