Everything Marjane Satrapi touches, no matter how dark, feels laced with an irrepressible joy. Her life, her work, even her ever-present cigarettes seem spiked with a strong strain of airborne humor. So as I wait in the bar last month at the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown, I am determined not to open our conversation by immediately exhaling a blast of bleak existentialism. Even when discussing her new film about death.
Several minutes later, Satrapi walks up smiling, but not quite ebullient. How are you doing? I ask — we haven’t seen each other since April, at her George Washington University lecture appearance. “I was doing fine until a few hours ago,” the acclaimed Iranian filmmaker and graphic novelist says, sounding mournful. “I just heard David Rakoff died.”
(Sarah L. Voisin/WASHINGTON POST) - Co-directors Marjane Satrapi, bottom, and Vincent Paronnaud won some acclaim a few years ago for their animated film, ‘Persepolis.’ Their new movie, ‘Chicken with Plums’ was released in DC on Aug. 31.
Rakoff, the noted humorist and essayist, was a friend of Satrapi’s. He was 47. “He had so much more left to give, so much more to say as an artist,” says Satrapi, not too much younger herself. “But we won’t focus on that sadness now,” she says, forcing a smile and flipping her long, black hair from her face. On to the interview about her film about death.
Satrapi is very aware of the march of time and the limited period an artist has to create works that try to say something important or telling or true — that actually matter and will live on. In her latest film, the live-action “Chicken With Plums” (opening Friday in Washington), a world-class violinist — having lost his irreplaceable instrument in a domestic quarrel, no longer able to create his perfect, beautiful music — decides to die. Life, without the purpose and joy of his art, is no longer worth living.
The character (played soulfully by Mathieu Amalric) is inspired by Satrapi’s uncle — who was a noted tar player in Iran and is depicted in the film’s source work, her graphic novel of the same name. Being descended from an artist uncle — and from a cinephile father — seems only to have heightened Satrapi’s awareness of a finite time for personal creation. With that in mind, will she next pursue her graphic novels, or animation, or music — or another live-action film?
“I don’t make a career plan. I take things the way they come,” Satrapi tells me earlier, noting she’s in her early 40s. “I’m a big smoker. So let’s say I live another 30 years, on the optimistic end. A project takes two or three years of my life — 10 percent of my life. I can only choose so many projects and then my life is finished. I have to be extremely careful what I do. When time goes, it goes.”
Asked whether she would ever give up smoking on the chance that it might extend her artist’s life, the Paris-based creator laughs at the very absurdity. (She is staying at the Four Seasons precisely because it has smoking rooms.) “You have to live,” she says. “I just spoke to students in Madison [Wisconsin], and some of them, in their 20s, were older than I am. I said, ‘You should be out drinking vodka and living while you can still bounce back the next morning and be just fine.’ ”