‘To be in politics, you have to love power, and I really hate it’

In Delhi for her new film, French-Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi, 47, talks about moving away from comics and why she continues to hold on to her scepticism.

Written by Paromita Chakrabarti | Published:January 31, 2016 1:10 am
French-Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi French-Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi

Tell us about the film The Extraordinary Journey of The Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Cupboard. You have got some very talented actors on board, including Uma Thurman, Dhanush and Seema Biswas.
It’s a beautiful love story with magic, love, adventure and friendship. In the background of that, you have a serious subject — migration and the situation of the world. It is fun, energetic and after you have seen it, you’ll find some kind of faith in human beings. I was moved by the story. Universality should not be only an idea. Shooting in three different continents with actors that come from four different continents is really cool. Also, it is not Iron Man 5, then 6, then number 10, 12. It is always good to have an original project.We start shooting on June 22nd in Jodhpur and then move to other places.

What kind of films do you watch?
For me, there’re just two kinds of films — good and bad. It does not depend on the genre. You can have a blockbuster that is extremely well-made, like Batman Begins. You can have an independent movie that sucks, it happens often. I don’t like movies about the end of the world, which say that we are all going to die now. I mean if we are all going to die, let’s not suffer before, let’s enjoy life. What’s the point otherwise?

Your last book, Chicken with Plums, came out in 2004. Have you completely given up graphic art?
I paint now. When I make a comic, I always have this insecurity — will the reader understand what I am writing? When I make a film, I ask myself the same question — it’s the same kind of intellectual work. But when you make a book, at the end, it is your book. Am I surprised by the book that I see? No, because I have decided on everything. When I make a film, the actor will give an interpretation, the light man will do something. In the end, you have something that goes beyond yourself.

When I paint, it’s more a question of feeling, there’s no narrative to it. I prefer to do that. But graphic art, who knows? I am not dead yet. But that said, I am like a car which cannot drive back. Once something is finished, it’s finished. I don’t like to go back to doing the same thing, so I don’t think I will make comics anymore. It was very pleasant, I was very happy doing it, but now I want to make movies. The cinema is a machine for creating compassion. There is no media in the world that is as powerful as cinema, and I love that.

What do you have to say about the controversy over the Angoulême International Comics Festival’s nomination of only male comic artists for their Grand Prix awards this year? You and five others were included later after several nominees withdrew in protest.
In the world of comics, you have 12 per cent women, so you cannot have the same number of candidates, because we are not going to make a special category, like for handicapped people, you know. But with 12 per cent, if you are 20 people, it makes 3.6 women, so if you make it round, then mathematically, it has to be 4. If it is 0, then it is not normal, especially since we have great women cartoonists in France. At the same time, I have never felt very concerned about this female/male stuff. The only response is the work that we do. You do your work, and if you succeed, it’s okay. I have never participated in any female film festivals. Women don’t make films with their boobs, we make it with our brains, so I don’t get this actually. It’s like a ghetto, and I am against ghettos.

What is your opinion on the kind of work done by a magazine such as Charlie Hebdo?
Everybody has a right to say what they want. People also have the right to not love it. Then they can just not read it. The idea that we don’t like something, so it should be forbidden — I don’t like it. You know nobody pushes you to read a magazine, or to watch a movie or to listen to music. You just turn off your radio or you don’t buy the magazine. It’s not more complicated than that. But personally, I have never been into provocation. I don’t feel that with provocation you advance, even though I am really not a very peaceful person. I always wonder if there is another way of negotiating. But then, you cannot kill people because you don’t like something. If you don’t like this cartoon, make some other cartoon. If you can’t make cartoons, go to court, sue them. But don’t go and kill them. The problem is that fundamentalists don’t know how to draw, they don’t know how to make films, they don’t know how to write books. So their answer is killing.

You have lived in France for a long time now. Do you think of it as home?
You know, once you leave your country, everywhere is home and nowhere is home. I can live anywhere and, yet, I always think one day I will go back (to Iran).

Do you keep yourself abreast of what’s happening in Iran?
Well, my parents are there, but at the same time, I haven’t been there for 16 years. I cannot suddenly become the pasionaria (activist) of Iran. That’s why I stopped at one point. I realised I am not 22 anymore. I was one day, and then you grow up, and after 16 years, what am I going to tell you? It’s been too long a time and already no matter what you say, it’s your memory and your analyses. They are quite far from reality, and with all this time, I have so much nostalgia, things get transformed in your brain. So it’s very personal, the feeling that I have.

Have you ever been interested in joining politics?
To be in politics, you have to love power, and I really hate it. I mean, who is the idiot who wants to be responsible for 500 million people? I even have problems with being responsible for my own hair. A long time ago, I was very much into politics because I believed that with politics you can change the world. In reality, it was not I who was changing the world. Getting close to politics was changing me. [Now] what I try is to create two hours of grace. If I can do that, it’s good. But I follow politics, because I live in this world, and it has a direct effect on my life.

What do you feel about how France has dealt with the immigration crisis?
Very badly, but at the same time, you cannot blame the French. Suddenly you have lots of people coming and obviously invading (your space), and obviously, you have to have a structure to receive them. But then what makes me unhappy is that nobody wants to leave their country to travel in the desert, die in the sea and go and sleep on the streets in some other country because they think it’s fun. Everybody loves the place that they are born in. So if people do it, then they don’t have any way out. The migrants of today are from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. There is war there, people are being murdered. So they don’t go to Europe because they think ‘We’ll go disco-dancing in Europe’. This is not the problem of Europe alone, this is the problem of humanity. We need diversity, it is extremely important. The more we mix up, the better it is.

How has Marjane Satrapi the person changed in the years since she left Iran?
I have changed because I have more experience. I was an angry person. Even if it doesn’t look like it, I am calmer now. There are certain things that don’t change though. I really never believe in what people tell me, for example, this idea of majority. I remember even when I was a child and I was told, ‘The majority of people think…’ I was like, if the majority was right, we should live in f****** paradise and we don’t live in f****** paradise, which means the majority of the people are wrong. I never believe what they tell me and that is what will probably never change. I am always like, ‘No, no, no’, not just to be in opposition, because sometimes I agree, but sometimes, too much consent around something is wrong and we should be very careful. If there is no discussion, it is either extremely mediocre or extremely sneaky and none of it is good.

Do you work on multiple projects at a time, or do you do one thing at a time?
I do one thing at a time. People always say, ‘Oh, women can do five things at a time’, and I am like, oh maybe then I am not actually a woman, because, for me, it’s one thing, then the other thing…Creating something is very difficult. But, sometimes, I am also sneaky. I am a very good cook. I cook marvelously, but I hate cooking. At one point, everybody was saying she’s such a good cook, can you cook this and cook that, and I started not cooking well on purpose. Now, nobody asks me to cook anymore. I only love to cook for myself when I am all alone. I cook myself five-six things, once every month, not more than that.

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