The Voices in Marjane Satrapi’s head

The acclaimed Iranian author and director Marjane Satrapi has turned her attention from the Middle East towards Hollywood. Her latest film - her first in English - is The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds.
In The Voices, Ryan Reynolds plays a schizophrenic who has imaginary talking pets. Photo by Reiner Bajo
In The Voices, Ryan Reynolds plays a schizophrenic who has imaginary talking pets. Photo by Reiner Bajo

Marjane Satrapi is in a hurry. Not literally right now, although the blistering pace at which the Iranian filmmaker talks suggests she’s attempting to get everything out in one breathless, 20-second burst. It’s more to do with her cinematic output.

“I’m 43 and a big smoker. By being very optimistic, let’s say I can really work hard for another 30 years. So even if I make a movie every second year – which is very high speed – I have just 15 more movies to make, and then I’m dead,” she says. “So I want to explore everything that is possible.”

And there are few out there who can suggest she isn’t doing just that. Having burst into the cinema world with the highly acclaimed animated adaptation of her own award-winning memoir, 2007’s Persepolis, telling the story of her childhood in Tehran during the 1997 revolution and college years spent in Austria, Satrapi co-directed Chicken with Plums, another of her own graphic novels. Chicken with Plums starred the Italian icon Isabella Rossellini and the rising Iranian talent – and fellow Paris-based exile – Golshifteh Farahani, and won her more plaudits as well as the top Black Pearl prize at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2011.

Satrapi’s next step has arguably been her boldest move yet. The Voices, due out in October, is a deathly dark comedy set about as far from Iran – and her own personal tales – as imaginable. It also sees her take a giant stride towards Hollywood. The Voices is set in a small American town and has Ryan Reynolds in the lead role as a strangely likeable schizophrenic whose kindly nature sadly isn’t enough to stop his inner psychopath from coming to the forefront in gloriously gory fashion.

“Ryan Reynolds is like a Ferrari, but they use him as if he was a Peugeot,” Satrapi says of the actor, who is known more for his blockbuster and romcom roles. He gives his most impressive performance to date in The Voices. “There’s much more there than they show of him. He’s extremely talented, he can do anything.”

Reynolds stars alongside fellow top-billers Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick and Jacki Weaver, but it’s his two talking pets – the sadistic feline Mr Whiskers and the benevolent dog Bosco – who steal the show. Both are voiced by Reynolds (well, they are the voices in his head), with the cat given a superbly menacing Scottish drawl.

“In my head, the cat was Joe Pesci,” says Satrapi. “But then in comes Reynolds, and I thought of this guy who used to play darts in the Scottish pub just down from my house in Paris. He reminded me of him, and he was a badass. And I was, ‘of course, that’s the cat!’”

The Voices first screened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Having only finished production in January, Satrapi says she’s currently taking a break, having “given whatever is inside away” during filming in Germany.

“I need to see people, see films, read books. I read scripts, make some paintings and walk around. Basically I do nothing,” she quips.

But although Satrapi delights in a profession that allows her the freedom to act as she likes and “sleep to 12 if I want to”, doing nothing isn’t something likely to feature for long in her itinerary.

“I never had a plan of a career. If you told me eight years ago I would become a movie director, I would be like, ‘yeah, of course’. I never thought it would happen, I never thought I’d become a cartoonist, I never think of anything,” she says.

“But I like to try stuff. I want the moment when I’m lying on a bed with tubes all over my body to say to myself: ‘I tried whatever was possible in life.’ Who knows, maybe I will become a singer!”

Those who have seen Persepolis and watch The Voices will likely prefer Satrapi stick to cinema. But which direction she’ll take from here is hard to predict.

Having leapt from monochrome autobiographical animations to black comedies about mental disorders in just three films, the genre of her next 15 is anyone’s guess.

But, knowing Satrapi – who has since raced off to have another cigarette break – they are bound to be plenty of fun.

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: May 31, 2014 04:00 AM

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