Saturday, February 23, 2008

OSCAR WATCH: Actress Catherine Deneuve and Daughter Chiara Mastroianni Enter Persepolis

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

Cartoonist Marjane Satrapi's extended graphic novel, "Persepolis," was remarkable in its humanness and candid retelling of her days as a kid in pre-Revolutionary Iran; the events around Ayatollah Khomeni's Islamic Revolution; of going to school in Europe; and of her eventual escape to France. But her adventure in graphic storytelling didn't end there. Satrapi joined forces with director/animator Vincent Paronnaud to transform her printed autobiography into an animated feature using line drawings--not fancy-dance 3-D computer-generated art.

In order to make her cartoon characters come alive, this duo enlisted legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve and daughter Chiara Mastroianni to provide the key voices of Marjane and her mother. Come alive they did, and as a result, the film was greeted with an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.

This generational team provide a curious look into the dynamic between them and how much they enjoyed the opportunity to share their experience of working on an animated film. While they got an insight into the process of making animation, they offered an insight into the lives of a great actress (star of many international classics such as "Belle Du Jour," "The Last Metro," "The Hunger") and her 30-something daughter (who has starred in her share of films as well).

Q: Were you familiar with Marjane Satrapi's story?

CM: Very familiar. In France, her book is really well known. We both read the book.

CD: It was also [serialized] in a very famous newspaper {Liberation] for a long time. So I was really aware of the story.

Q: Did it ever occur to you that you'd be doing voices for this?

CD: No way. When I heard about the film I said it was a great idea, of course. But I haven't heard anything before I read the book.

Q: You've worked with every sort of director, what was different or similar to doing this animated feature, as opposed to playing a real character?

CM: I find that it's the same. The script was really written like a script for film. At times you forget that it would be animated. Also the fact that it's just a voice it is very interesting because you have a freedom physically that you have less when you're on screen.

Marjane directed you like she's directed actors all her life. She was very good at it and very good at acting as well. What happened was this... We recorded voices, different voices, not together. No actors were working together and she was playing all the characters. I wish we had some images from that because it was a really funny moment. And she was really good at it. It didn't feel very strange.

CD: I think it's different when you only do the voice because having the freedom of not being physically involved, [it's] just standing in front of the microphone in a dark room. In a way you have to get over it. I don't want to exaggerate things, but you really have to stylize what you are doing because you know it's going to be just with the voice.

CM: But still it's a true story and even if it's animated, it's very realistic. It's like she's playing a squirrel and I'm playing a duck...

CD: I'd love that [both laugh].

CM: Next time, next time. You know you don't fall into doing bizarre things. The acting itself, the way you talk, is exactly the same as you would talk on film. You don't have to invent a different voice.

CD: So that's it.

Q: What did you do to bring your characters to life—did you prepare?

CD: I didn't prepare.

CM: We don't prepare that much [laughs]. This is France, this is Europe...

CD: We prepare for films, but you just have to concentrate when you play the mother for Marjane in "Persepolis."

Q: What attracted you to doing this sort of film, as opposed to a live-action feature?

CD: I was very excited because I thought it was a very original project.

CM: It had been a long time that you had wanted to...

CD: Yes, I wanted to do a voice for years. An animation film for a long time, yes. My agent knew that so when he heard about the film, he told me about it. I just wanted to be involved. I think it's funny for actors to have to play a voice.

Q: What attracted you to the story?

CD: It was the whole project. I knew the book. When you know the story and you have been involved with it for a long time...I wanted to be part of it, that's it. That was really the major reason.

Q: One of the problems with animation is that you don't get to interact with the other actors, when making this film, did you talk about how the characters should act with one another?

CM: No, never. It's actually strange. When I saw the film finished, thats when I realized that we didn't act together. It struck me at the moment because when I saw it, I felt that everyone was really working together. That's so crazy.

CD: That's the miracle.

CM: It never crossed my mind that we didn't work together. I was in the studio alone with Marjane. You just have the feeling that it's a puzzle and everything went along really well.

CD: If you don't know it, you cannot think about it.

Q: You've both seen the finished product; are you satisfied?

CD: Yes, very much so. It was very moving, very political in a good way.

Q: What would you like this film to convey about the lives of women?

CD: Well I'm sure a lot of people have no idea what it must like to be in Iran, especially for women. The film says a lot. It's a political film. And it's an animation film. It can bring a different audience that only an animation film can bring. And I like that fact. The fact that it is very touching sometimes, but the film is quite funny.

CM: With the media nowadays, especially since September 11th, 2001, there's sort of a concept of these countries being scary. And no one tries to think about what other perspectives the country may represent. What I think Marjane wanted to show in this film, by talking about the everyday life of one little girl, is to get you in touch with the issues that are very important.

These are people just like you and me, they dance, they fall in love, they experience heartbreak [and the rest]. Through the media, there's always a story about a bomb that exploded and 3000 people [who were killed or hurt]... It's shocking but there's no reality to it. Of course it's shocking when you hear about it. People tend to forget.

Marjane was telling me that when she arrived in Europe, people were asking her whether he father drove a horse. It's all these preconceived ideas. She wanted to show in the film that there are human beings in the country and you have to forget about the other thought because it's scary. It's not always about Iran. The media always brings things out like a concept, but nothing beyond that.

Q: In America, the Oscars are such a big deal. What do you feel about awards; do you care about such things?

CD: I think it can be very different for European films. If you get an Oscar, you get a different kind of distribution, especially in the States.

Q: The reviews for "Persepolis" [have been] great. People are ecstatic about it. You [are] headed for Hollywood at least for that night.

CD: It would be wonderful if the film was chosen by Americans to represent France at the Oscars.

CM: "Persepolis" has been an adventure from the beginning. It was produced by two people--it's their first production. In the beginning, no one really believed--like "What? black and white?" [laughs] But little by little, the thing started to grow. Marjane and Vincent are like soldiers.

There's one thing that they are very proud of is that they made the film they wanted to make without compromise. What happened after making the film, going to Cannes, winning a prize, [getting nominated for an Oscar]all these fantastic things that happened, its like going to one adventure to another.

Three years ago when we started this project, would we imagine ourselves to be sitting here? It's a special experience. Until now it's been great. But we've been very lucky. Speculating on getting a prize and all that, we have to wait and see, we have to wait until [February]. "Persepolis"" has been chosen to represent France. But, me being Italian, I am a bit superstitious...

CD: I'm not superstitious; I think it would be a great thing for the distribution of the film. It would be great...

CM: I'm not saying that I don't want it to happen...

CD: You're just saying you don't want to talk about it happening, because you're superstitious...

CM: Yeah and I don't want to pick a dress now [both laugh].

Q: Loving movies so much, were you ever tempted to move to Hollywood at all?

CD: No, because nothing ever was proposed that was interesting enough. I think it would have been difficult to move in Hollywood. I wasn't going to go to move and get a part that was less interesting, into an English speaking film, than what I would be offered in Europe.

Q: Have you ever thought of moving here?

CM: Well I wish it would be possible to work here without moving here. I love cinema, but I don't think moving...but when I read a script, I don't look if its Italian, American, or French, I just see if it relates to me. And then I would want to do it. Very rarely I had opportunities to work in America, in independent films, produced by the French. I don't have an experience of Hollywood of all. I would love to, but you have to be realistic about it.

CD: Yes, if you are not an English-speaking actress, it is very rare to see a European actress in an American film.

Q: A lot of the directors you've worked with defined certain styles. Of the people you've worked with, who influenced you in your acting?

CD: It was not a question for me about how I changed my acting, it was more about growing. Growing. I started to do films very young. The fact that I've met Jacques Demy at a very early age, I've learned things with him. I wouldn't say I've changed my mind. At the time I was very young, I was involving and learning at the same time. I haven't changed much since I was 18 or 20--as a movie goer.

Q: Who were your favorite directors that you've worked with?

CD: I've done different films with Arnaud Desplechin and I am actually working with him on a project [that's coming out this year, "Un conte de Noël"]. I feel very [strongly about] with him. I think we are always going on doing something together, [we're always] digging in the same direction.

CM: I think Arnaud Desplechin was very important to me because I was looking to meet him when I first started. So he's someone very important to me too. I like people who have a very personal point of view and just brings you into his own world. I would say definitely that Arnaud for me is the "captain of the boat."

Q: What is that difference between Hollwood and Europe in the way they make movies?

CD: I'm not sure. I don't have that much experience in Hollywood to compare. I think the difference is, that in America, the producer is almost as important as the director in making the film. And it can be not so good for the film. I find that having the director completely alone to do exactly what he wanted, can be good.

There are advantages in making films in America, with many people working on the script, having many people to help direct... Sometimes the result is too conventional, but sometimes the result is wonderful. I think personal films are interesting, [having] the personal view of the director. But sometimes I also think a film suffers without the producer's influence, without more concentration on production. So it's always a mix of both.

Q: Do you want to help upcoming actors or directors, maybe produce in the future?

CD: No, no I'm not there to help. When I do a film, I do it because I think the story is interesting. I don't want to take a chance of working with someone I don't know. It's not a matter of help. I love cinema, and I want to take opportunities to make a story come onto screen. I don't like the idea of taking a project just because "it would be good for them."

CM: You're talking about production, and that's something that happens more over here, rather than France. The production aspect in France, there are many actors becoming directors, but its not like here.

Q: Have you ever visited Iran in your career?

CD: No, not yet. And I don't think it's going to be anytime soon before I can go there [laughs].

Q: I don't think anyone can go there.

CM: Well going there [isn't the problem]. It's coming back that can be a problem.

CD: No, I think you can go but be aware of so many things you cannot do or say, or what.

Q: Is there a place in the world where you wouldn't be recognized?

CD: That would be something very appealing [laughs]. It reminds me of when I went to Vietnam for the first time. I felt something very special walking in the street, with no one knowing you; they've never seen a European or French film.

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