Last Thursday night, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the Museum of Modern Art’s sold-out screening of Marjane Satrapi’s latest film Chicken with Plums. Eagerly waiting on line at the theater entrance, I was somewhat surprised by the diversity of fans around me! People of all ages and nationalities were at hand to support and celebrate Satrapi’s work in both literature and film. As a long time fan of the graphic novel genre, it was a thrill to see so many people embrace this form of the written word.
Of course, much has to do with Satrapi being an award-winning graphic novelist, children’s book author, illustrator, and film director; this woman is a creative dynamo! Satrapi’s popularity was evident when a security guard stopped one young woman as she tried to sneak into the event sans the requisite ticket. With all the excitement surrounding the screening and all the seats filled in the theater, Satrapi took the stage in equal excitement and awe, mirroring the audience there to see her. Joining Satrapi on stage was New Yorker art editor Françoise Mouly, to discuss the development of Satrapi’s work before the start of the film. Having never seen Marjane Satrapi in person I was struck by how charming, humble and very funny she is. I will admit to developing a full-on girl crush on the very charismatic Satrapi!
The conversation between Satrapi and Mouly is part of a short series presented by PEN World Voice Festival and MoMA, focusing on literature and the moving image. The discussion was very funny, and over way too quickly. I could have heard these two fantastic ladies talk for much longer. Françoise Mouly is just as impressive creatively, and I left the event wanting to learn more about her as well. As the art editor for the New Yorker since 1993, she is also best known for her work with RAW, a showcase publication for cutting edge comic art, and having launched Toon Books, now an imprint of Candlewick Press.
They briefly touched on how they met—at a convention at the Staples Center-and quickly bonded in their search—and subsequently getting lost—for a place to get a coffee and have a cigarette outside of the convention. Other humorous highlights of the discussion were Marjane’s forays into various employment opportunities. She tried to be a private investigator, but decided following cheating spouses was really none of her business. Satrapi also interviewed for a headhunter position, but took the job title too literally, asking the interviewer when she would get her gun!
The crowd in the theater was laughing hysterically, and loving Satrapi even more. Other interesting tidbits that came up was that Satrapi never thought Persepolis would ever be published, she just needed to get the story out. Mouly was quick to note that it is very rare for a French book to then be translated and published in other languages, which again attest to the strength and power of Satrapi’s graphic novel work.
As to the question of working in book versus cinema, Satrapi commented that both are two completely different languages. When she undertook the challenge of bringing Persepolis to screen, many friends urged her to use CGI. Satrapi refused deciding that hand animation would look more beautiful and would not look dated years later. She also expressed that using the medium of animation, helped make the themes of Persepolis more relatable to a wider audience, whereas in filming Chicken with Plums, Satrapi decided to film in live action. She did this because she felt all moviegoers can relate to a love story and not be distracted by the appearance and nationality of the characters.
Chicken with Plums directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Parronnaud, tells the story of Nasser-Ali, a gifted violinist who forswears life after his wife breaks his violin during an argument. At its core this film is a touching love story, and Satrapi is right to assume that the theme of love transcends the language, characters, and time period, so that any one who has loved and lost (and haven’t we all) can relate. The movie is at once funny, moving, surreal, and magical. Though it is filmed in live action, the opening sequence still features lovely animated artwork by Satrapi.
You get the feeling of watching a beautiful fairy-tale for grown-ups unfold before your eyes. Having read the graphic novel of the same name the movie is based on, back when it published in 2006 by Pantheon Books, I made it a point not to read it again before the screening. I don’t think it made a difference; both the movie and graphic novel are equally enjoyable and stand on their own. Even though you find out pretty quickly how it ends, you still stay invested in the journey to its conclusion. The film is a visual treat and wonderfully bittersweet.
If you missed the recent New York premier at the Tribeca Film Festival, and the screening at MoMA, fear not! Chicken with Plums releases theatrically via Sony Picture Classics in August for all to enjoy.