It was certainly a troubled youth, that of Marjane Satrapi. Daughter of a well-to-do Iranian family with progressive ideas, she spent her childhood in Tehran, until, following the Islamic revolution and the subsequent war with Iraq, her parents, worried about the situation inside the country, decide to send her to study in Vienna in 1983. Here she remained until she was nineteen, when, in 1988, the young Marjane returns to Iran to pursue university studies. However, the choice to return to her homeland is not a happy one due to the particularly oppressive climate towards women. And this is how, after a failed marriage, the future director decides to leave permanently in 1994, settling first in Strasbourg and then in Paris, where she still lives today.
The difficult youth of Marjane Satrapi and her artistic debut with graphic novels
The personal events of the Satraps they will be the direct source of inspiration for an artistic journey begun, even before the cinema, with comics and graphic illustrations. It is in fact the graphic novel Persepolis – autobiography that traces her personal youth odyssey – to impose the talented Middle Eastern author at the beginning of the millennium to the attention of international audiences and critics. A success, this, which will be followed by other comic novels such as Cut and sew (2003) and Chicken with plums (2004).
The transition to the world of the seventh art: the cinematographic transpositions of Persepolis And Chicken with plums
The talent of Marjane Satrapi does not leave indifferent the world of the seventh art; so much so that in 2007 the young artist was given the opportunity to go behind the camera, transposing hers into film Persepolis (2007). The film debut, co-directed with the French cartoonist Vincent Paronnaud and made using the technique of animation, it repeats the success of the graphic novel of the same name. Critically acclaimed worldwide, Persepolisin fact, he obtained the nomination for the Oscars 2008 as best animated film and hoarded of awards, winning, among others, the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
Four years after the disruptive film debut, for Marjane Satrapi the time comes to confirm his authorial skills. And this is how she is called to realize – once again together with Vincent Paronnaud – a new feature film based on another of his graphic novels. It is the turn of Chicken with plums (2011), film presented at the 68th Venice Film Festival, which we will discuss in detail later.
The digression from the cinema engaged with The Bands de Jotas
The following year – 2012 – marks a small artistic revolution for the Iranian author. It is then, in fact, that the Satrapsterminated the collaboration with Paronnaud, directs a solo film for the first time. It is about The Bands de Jotas (2012), a hilarious comedy with thriller veins which, using the structure of the road movie and starting from the classic expedient of exchanging suitcases, tells the story of two quiet badminton players, Nils (Mattias Ripa) and Didier (Stéphane Roche), who are involved in spite of themselves by a mysterious woman (Marjane Satrapi) in a fight to the death against a mafia gang. With this film set in southern Spain, the Satraps he definitely moves away from the poetics and themes proposed in his previous works – mostly linked to his homeland and to the female universe – creating a story that asks for nothing other than to be a moment of pure expressive freedom. And it is in this sense that The Bands de Jotas it represents a funny and amused digression of the director / cartoonist from the figure of committed intellectual in which she had already been concluded. A self-deprecating escape from oneself through which Marjane Satrapi – here also in the role of the protagonist – she seems to want to politely express her refusal for predefined labels or roles.
Marjane Satrapi’s first film in English: The Voices
The fourth feature by the Iranian author is also her first English-language film. Let’s talk about The Voices (2014), black (or rather “blackissima”) comedy that, bordering on horror / splatter, tells the story of Jerry (Ryan Reynolds), worker suffering from mental problems, who talks to his pets (the evil cat Mr. Whiskers and the sweet dog Bosco) and is in love with his colleague Fiona (Gemma Arterton). After accidentally killing the latter, the young protagonist – already confused in distinguishing reality and fantasy due to his refusal to take drugs – is sucked into the violent maelstrom of his hallucinations and must decide whether or not to turn into a serial killer.
Tackling the theme of mental illness through the sensory experience of Jerry’s disturbed perspective (rendered, for example, with the dirty / clean contrast of his home), the film – shot in Germany and presented at the 2014 Sundance Festival – is not stops at the laudable narrative of the socio-individual repercussions of psychic disorder, but uses it as a metaphor through which to highlight that conflict between the will for good and the drive for evil – the ancestral dualism Eros / Thanatos – which has always been at the basis of the dynamics human. However, it is the sense of loneliness that prevails in a story which, combining fragility with incommunicability, highlights the need for love that no one can do without.
Radioactive: portrait of the scientist Marie Curie, a free and determined woman
The latest feature film to date made by Satraps is Radioactive (2019), biopic on Marie Curie (played by Rosamund Pike) taken from the graphic novel Radioactive. Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout from Lauren Redniss.
Narrated in a long flash-back, the film traces the life of the Polish-born scientist starting from her meeting with her future husband Pierre Curie (Sam Riley). From here a story unfolds which, proceeding in temporal leaps, tells of professional successes (the discovery of radioactivity, the two Nobel laureates) and of the affective choices of a woman willing to face the public scandal in order to affirm her freedom. Marjane Satrapi stages the portrait of a female figure in search of her own emancipation. Of Marie she is interested not only in the scientific relevance – albeit underlined by highlighting the positive and negative consequences of her discoveries – but also, if not above all, in the personal aspect. The scientist is a strong and strong-willed person, a sort of proto-feminist called to fight for her own affirmation in a context still dominated by male-dominated culture. The reference to the condition of women in the director’s country of origin is inevitable. The Iranian women told in Persepolis, their muffled cry of freedom. And it is in this sense that Radioactive represents for the Satraps a clear return to those thematic roots from which his artistic path originated. A path that today sees the author committed as an illustrator of children’s books.
After this short excursus on the filmography of the Iranian director, we leave you to the review of her feature film Chicken with plumscurrently visible on the MUBI platform.
In 1958 Tehran, the talented violinist Nasser Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric) decides to let himself die after his wife Faranguisse (Maria de Medeiros) voluntarily destroyed the beloved violin given to him by his teacher. He will thus spend eight days lying on the bed refusing all sorts of food. Eight long days in which, waiting for the end, he will rethink his life, marked by the passion for music, by the unhappy marriage imposed on him by his mother Parvine (Isabella Rossellini) and especially from regret for beautiful Irane (Golshifteh Farahani), his only true, great love.
After the resounding success of the debut film Persepolis (2007), the duo of directors / cartoonists formed by the Iranian Marjane Satrapi and from the French Vincent Paronnaud returns to cinemas with a second work that definitely moves away from the formal and narrative choices of the previous film: no longer the animated story but the live action; no longer the realistic register but one mise-en-scène turning to fabulous tones. With Chicken with plums, the two authors choose to play on the mixture of genres, ending up creating a bittersweet and dreamlike comedy that gradually replaces a melancholy and melancholy flavor at the initial taste for the comic / grotesque. All within a story that rejects narrative linearity, preferring perhaps an excessive fragmentation characterized by flash-backs and flash-forwards in which it ranges from sit-coms to animation inserts. And this is how for each of the eight days that mark the arrival of the end there is a memory or an anecdote that allows you to get to know Nasser Ali. And which, by placing the viewer in a slow path of unveiling, help him understand how what initially seems to be a whim of the protagonist (does it really make sense to starve just because Faranguisse broke the violin?), reality represents only the ferocious consequence of one’s despair. Because the one torn apart is not just a musical instrument, but the extreme point of connection between oneself and the (bi) dream of loving. And it is in this sense that Chicken with plumswhile unfolding against the background of death, it actually celebrates life. A life that can be defined as such only if you are able to express your feelings. And that art – on which the feature film reflects deeply – can help to understand “blasting light out of darkness“.
But Chicken with plums it is also something else. Because, while retaining a prevailing lyrical and intimate matrix, the film does not lack a strictly political connotation – albeit less marked and direct than the frontal denunciation of Persepolis – with which the couple of directors, after having disseminated impressive traces of the millenary Persian culture (the poet’s quote Hafezthe presence of the angel of death Azrael, played by Édouard Baer), returns to address the issue of the condition of women in Iranian society through the events of Irane, forced to give up the love of / for Nasser Ali due to the opposition of her father. An event, this, which will take more and more foot going to constitute the true central nucleus of a story – treats, as well as Persepolisfrom a graphic novel (Poulet aux prunes) of the same Satraps – which finds decisive support in the visual system. And that, also thanks to the refined scenography that does not fear the anti-naturalism of the drawn backdrops and to the photography that in the play of lights and shadows plastically renders the moods of the protagonists, can only lead us to a profound reflection on existence: what remains of us if we close the doors to love, if we do not open a passage to the breath of life? The answer is all in the cupio dissolve by Nasser Ali.