Chicken with Plums: the snowy side of Tehran

Written on January 12, 2012 by Banafsheh Farhangmehr in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Marjane Satrapi, creator of hit animation Persepolis, talks politics, revolution and about why her new film reimagines Tehran from a distance.

Sometimes,” says Marjane Satrapi, “we become completely angry! He feels like hitting me. I feel like hitting him. We are like two angry dogs. But after one hour, it is finished.” Satrapi is talking about working with fellow graphic novelist-turned-director Vincent Paronnaud on Chicken with Plums, a film that shows a little-known side of Tehran. Set in the 1950s, it depicts a city with a thriving cafe culture, elegant old buildings and shops – a place made to look picture-postcard pretty by the snow that falls so often. This may be a live action movie – unlike the duo’s previous work, the 2007 blockbuster animation Persepolis – but it conjures up Tehran in a magical, dream-like fashion.

Satrapi and Paronnaud make an engaging double act. Both are established comic book artists who have made the leap into movies. Iranian-born Satrapi is an extrovert, full of humour. Paronnaud, a Frenchman, is quietly sardonic, sharply dressed, bearded and rake-thin. He nods placidly in agreement with Satrapi’s description of their relationship, explaining that the 46-day shoot was “very stressful”.

Satrapi was a fan of Paronnaud’s comic book work (created under the nom de plume Winshluss) long before she met him. “It’s extremely nihilistic, extremely dark,” she says of Pinocchio, Smart Monkey and Monsieur Ferraille. However, when they first met at a studio in Paris, they took an intense dislike to one another. “I thought, ‘He’s a fucking asshole’, and he thought, ‘This woman is crazy,'” recalls Satrapi. After several months, they had a coffee together and “started talking about geopolitics. We agreed on everything and became friends.”

Like Persepolis, Chicken with Plums is rooted in Satrapi’s family history. This time, however, it does not have an overtly political dimension. Loosely inspired by Satrapi’s uncle, it tells the story of a brilliant violinist (played by Mathieu Amalric) who is so dismayed about his violin breaking – and about the memory of a lost sweetheart – that he takes to his bed. His devoted wife tries to rouse him by cooking his favourite meals, but he is too caught up in his memories to budge.

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