ST. PAUL — At 38, Marjane Satrapi still resembles the kid in Persepolis, her autobiographical graphic-novel-turned-animated-film of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Granted, Satrapi doesn’t practice her Bruce Lee kicks at parties anymore; she doesn’t chant “Down with the shah!” or rock out to Iron Maiden or tell God to get out of her head. But, sipping black tea near the fireplace in the swanky St. Paul Hotel lobby, stumping for the $8 million movie she directed with her best friend, French filmmaker Vincent Paronnaud, she comes across more as a sassy punk philosopher than as a Cannes Special Jury Prize co-winner.
“I don’t think artists can change the world, but we can participate, we can ask questions.”
How do you describe yourself?
I am this chick from Iran. I live in France. My husband is Swedish. I speak six languages and travel all over the world. I’m an artist — I can move people and I can tell them stuff. I’m lucky. If all the people in the world had this chance to dream for a living, it would be a better world. There’s a big difference between using a word and using a shotgun.
Are you glad that your humanist movie is coming out at a time of such great international tension?
Yes. We are living in the logic of war, inventing enemies everywhere. Movies can cool people down a bit. What we tried to do with Persepolis was to show that a human being is a human being anywhere. I don’t think artists can change the world, but we can participate, we can ask questions. “Who are these people that we are so scared of? They’re just like us, aren’t they?”
When you began your career, did you choose drawing because of its potential for universality?
Probably, yes. But on one level, comics were just my natural way of expressing myself. I’m not such a good writer; I think in terms of drawing. On the other hand, I always loved the idea that human beings — cavemen — drew pictures long before they wrote or talked. Human expression is universal. A sad face looks sad in any culture.
Would you say you want your film to convince stupid people that Iranians are human beings?
Yes. In general, my goal is to reach the people who would never go and watch a movie with subtitles. I didn’t want to make a movie that only some articulate and educated people would see. It’s like on my book tours, I always told the publishers, “Don’t send me to downtown Manhattan — those people are like me. Send me to the middle of some Republican state. I want to talk to people and try to show them another truth.”
The movie won’t play in Iran, will it?
Not officially, no. But unofficially, of course people in Iran are going to see it. Censorship is an odd thing. If you tell people they can’t have something, of course they’re going to want it. In America, people drank much more at the time of Prohibition than afterward. This is normal. It goes back to the Bible. God says, “Do whatever you want, just don’t eat this apple.” And then what happened?
Offside, the Iranian movie about girls trying to see a soccer match, just came out on DVD. Do you love it?
Very much so. I designed the poster, actually. The movie shows you that though life is not easy for girls in Iran, they’re strong and they make it through. That’s an important message, because we can’t reduce Iranian people to their poverty and misery. The girls in Offside are actually pushy! It’s great!
Persepolis works in much the same way. Who couldn’t relate to adolescent rebellion?
Adolescence is wild because you’re full of hormones, you don’t know who you are. As adults, we should always remember adolescence — that intense desire for freedom. I never go toward the consensus and I have always stayed marginal. Because I have always thought, if the majority of people were right, we should be living in paradise. But we live in hell.
Hell is war?
Yes, and so is lying. If the US military were to say, “Okay, look, we’re coming into your region of the world because 85 percent of the oil is in this region and we’d love to have it, we’re stronger than you, so shut up and just accept that this is the way it is,” I could accept that in a way. But when they wrap it in this talk of human rights and democracy, that’s when it becomes too much. Don’t tell me it’s for my own good that you’re here to fuck me over. Don’t insult my intelligence.
How do you fight stupidity without weapons?
It’s easy — with education and culture, with openness, with a sense that everything is connected. That won’t solve all the problems. But it would help us to be less stupid. And it’s always better to be less stupid than more stupid.