Mathieu Amalric, Eric Caravaca, Isabella Rossellini and Rona Hartner in Chicken with Plums

Following my recent interview with Marjane Satrapi about her latest film Chicken with Plums, I also enjoyed a chat with her writing and directing partner Vincent Paronnaud. In addition to a common background in graphic novels, the filmmaking team share an Oscar nomination for their first film, the animated Persepolis, Chicken with Plums which represents a shift from animation to live-action opened previously in New York and it opens today in Los Angeles.

Jackson Truax: Was Chicken with Plums easier, being the second film you and Marjane made together? Did you have more of a shorthand this time around?

Vincent Paronnaud: No, it was not that easy. Everything that we learned while making the first movie, Persepolis, that didn’t matter… With Persepolis, it was like we were playing horns. And on the second one, Chicken with Plums, it was if we had to learn to play violin.

JT: Persepolis and Chicken with Plums are stories that are very close to Marjane. Are the stories as close to you personally, or do you bring more of an objective eye to the creative process?

VP: Originally, I started working with Marjane because her stories are universal… Of course, it’s her story, philosophically and everything, but I bring myself, my own vision as well. As co-writers and co-directors, we work very closely together. I bring my own vision to that.

JT: What do you think that vision is, that you bring as an artist, writer, director, and storyteller?

VP: We work so closely together. It’s really difficult to define after-the-fact… We have, of course, different personalities. I’m more of a pragmatist because of my personality than Marjane is. So it’s a mixture between emotionalism from Marjane, and then pragmatism.

JT: What was the process of deciding not to make Chicken with Plums another animated film?

VP: It was really tough to do Persepolis. We were fed up with animation. So we wanted to dream and project ourselves. And give ourselves a little breath of fresh air. So this is why we decided to do Chicken with Plums in live-action.

JT: What were biggest challenges you faced in making a live-action film that you hadn’t dealt with previously?

VP: It was a real challenge. Of course, it’s always difficult to learn something new. But the reason that we did it was that it was a challenge and it was exciting. It was something that we were very passionate about. We are artists. You shouldn’t forget that. We love to dream… After the success of Persepolis, we were definitely taking risks in our careers.

JT: Persepolis is an animated film that feels realistic. Conversely, there are scenes in Chicken with Plums where the audience is looking at the live-action exteriors, but the art direction makes the exteriors look like the animated backgrounds in Persepolis. How conscious was that, and how did you achieve it?

VP: We found a realistic look in the animation. So it’s more for adults instead of for kids. And now we’re playing with actors; real, live people. We tried to achieve something more surreal. It was a way of controlling the aesthetic and the global vision of the film… It was our first live-action movie with actors. It was a way of being able to artistically control the project.

JT: Marjane told me when you two got on set, you had very clear, well-defined roles, in which she worked with the actors and you worked with the rest of the crew. How did you two initially fall into that dynamic?

VP: I’m a pragmatist, so that’s already one of the reasons. She’s more emotional. She’s more about human relationships. It’s a view of Iran that’s like a dream. She was definitely much more in tune about the way that she wanted to express all of these things in working with the actors. She’s very challenged with anything that’s technical. I love framing. I love images. That was, of course, naturally what I went to. For me, it was a beautiful surprise and also a big discovery to be able to work with actors who were professional. I already did some shorts before. But this was totally an amazing experience for me.

JT: You said that the things you love most are framing shots and working with camera movements. What are the biggest differences in doing in those in a live-action film versus an animated movie?

VP: It’s the control. In animation, I can control all the way, almost to the end, basically. In live action, if you miss a moment, it’s over. You’re fucked up.

JT: What is your process in communicating with your crew, so that even though you personally don’t have as much control, you know they’ll execute the work in a way that you’ll ultimately be happy with?

VP: You need a great Director of Photography [like Christophe Beaucarne]. We talked a lot before we got on-set about the vision and everything. So we understood each other. We did a lot of storyboards. This movie is a little bit like a play. So it was easier for us to anticipate what kind of framing we were going to have. It’s not like handheld camera.

JT: And how is storyboarding different on a live action film than it was on Persepolis?

VP: It’s always the same thing. Because once you start shooting, you always have surprises. It’s a question of time. It’s a question of something you visualized or imagined and it’s not happening… Then you figure out what you need to do and change.

JT: The films employs this remarkable range of visual styles to explore certain sections of the narrative including sitcom parody, and references to Fellini, Bergman, and Melies. How did you navigate how far you could expand the visual style of the film while not losing the emotional cohesion of the story?

VP: We were very conscious of that problem… We knew that the best way to kill the emotion was basically to do a patchwork. So we thought a lot about that. We were prepared for that. We tried to make a smooth transition between those styles. I hope that we were successful at it.

JT: Chicken with Plums is such an evocative film, once people see it, is there anything in particular you’re hoping audiences will be thinking or feeling as the credits roll?

VP: It’s the kind of movie that I would go see… It was with that thought in mind that we prepared and made this movie. Because it’s a romantic movie. But it’s not really a romantic movie… In the end, it is way more surprising. Now, the way that we made it, I would go and see the movie. Because it’s a movie that talks about death, which is a pretty terrifying subject. But it’s also something that’s fun.

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