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Marjane Satrapi on Dark Impulses and Crafting the Twisted Comedy of ‘The Voices’

Written by on February 6, 2015 

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One of the best experiences I had at least year’s Sundance was going in blind to Marjane Satrapi‘s The Voices, knowing it starred Ryan Reynolds, and virtually nothing else. Consider my surprise when it was one of the best films of the festival. Over a year later it’s finally available to see in theaters and on VOD and for the occasion I sat down with Satrapi.

We discussed pulling off the tonal balance, casting Ryan Reynolds, moving from animation to live-action, the importance of directorial control, how the film feels like a drug experience, her recent favorite films, and much more. To note, we get into some spoilers towards the bottom that are best left once you’ve seen the film. Check out the full conversation below.

The film balances a dream-like vibrant tone mixed with the underlying darkness. How much of that was in the script and how much did you bring to it?

The script from the beginning was a very good script. That’s why I wanted to do it. Michael Perry did the script. I was like, ‘I had never read something like that and neither had I seen a movie like that.’ I knew it would be something I had never seen before. I loved it from the beginning. Then when you’re working, you have to make some adjustments — some scenes are too long, etc. I worked a lot with Michael Perry and we had to cut a lot of scenes because we only had 33 days of shooting so you cannot do everything you want in one day. It’s impossible. So we had to make a lot of adjustments. I said what I wanted to do to Michael Perry and he came with different ideas. Ryan Reynolds also improvised a lot of things, some lines, saying things much more naturally in one way rather than in another way, but the script from the very beginning was a very good one.

I’ve admired Ryan Reynolds acting for some time and I feel like he’s now in a mode where he’s trying out more daring projects. Did you see anything with him previously where you knew he would be right for the role?

They called me and said Ryan Reynolds wants to make your film and I wanted to meet him. The moment we met it was obvious that Ryan was right for the role. You can have the best filmmaker in the world and best writer in the world, but if either of them want to make a different film, the result is never good. But if you have the actor and the moviemaker and they have the same vision, then you might have a good film. Ryan was excellent. His approach of the role, his understanding of the role was exactly the same thing as I had. We also had many things in common. It was an obvious choice to work with him. He appeared to be much better than whatever I expected.

I was surprised to learn he did the voices of the cat and the dog. How many iterations did that go through or did he come up with that right on the spot?

Before we started the movie he did it one afternoon, he did it all in one go. Then everytime we did the scene when the cat and the dog were in there, then he couldn’t play that because that’s something you have to do before because he’s interacting with them. He did a great job. He also did the deer and the Bunny Monkey and everyone. He did a great job.

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For me, writing about this movie has been a little difficult. I don’t want to spoil what happens. Do you care at all about spoilers and how do you feel about the marketing so far?

Well the movie and the marketing are really two different things. I don’t think they have to spoil it, but at the same time it’s not a surprise that it’s a serial killer who talks with his pets, so that is what we can say. No matter what you know about the film, I think you will still be surprised by things. It’s very difficult if I want to pitch the movie to someone — ‘just tell me the story’ — it’s very difficult for me to tell the whole story. It’s a bit of an issue, but it’s not a big deal.

With your other movies, you’ve also done animation and Chicken with Plums, which I loved, and has some animation in it. How do you feel about fully transitioning to live-action?

Animation is really good, but at the same time it’s such a long procedure. It takes forever. It seems to last forever. I love to make a film with real actors. I prefer that. Wherever my life will lead me after, I don’t know. I really don’t know. Two years if you would have told me, ‘You are going to make The Voices with Ryan Reynolds,’ I would have laughed at you. I would have said, ‘Never’ and then I did. So I’m waiting for life to surprise me.

With the reception of this movie, have you seen a different response in different parts of the world?

Well, of course with English-speaking people the film is much more funny because all these jokes that the cat makes, you don’t have to read the subtitles and it makes it much more funny, obviously. This movie has been shown two times in two different festivals in France and each time I won an award and each time I won the award of the public, so the public really loves the film. I was in Belgium and people really loved the film. I wanted it to be a universal film and I’m very happy about that.

Reynolds’ character is likable despite being a serial killer. Did that reception surprise you?

Yes, everybody is in love with him. Everybody is like, ‘Oh my God, Ryan Reynolds!’ And I’m like, yes, I know. He’s a great actor, of course. Everybody is in love with the dog and everybody is in love with the cat.

Was there test screenings or anything? It feels very much like your own vision coming through and not edited down — in a good way.

You’re right. You’re right. It was my own vision and nobody rejected it. This is the way it should be. If the director has a vision of a film you should go through with it. It was important that I controlled everything. Sometimes I have a vision and you have the actors who give the performances and never in my wildest dreams would I have never thought the performances would be this. It’s much better than I would have expected. Of course, it’s a vision of the style and how to make it, etc. that I tried to keep.

[Spoilers to follow]

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When he has the first murder, it’s shocking, but the first scene that made the audience squirm a bit was when he was cutting up the body and perfectly packaging it. I got a kick of that. Was there any pushback at all for that stuff?

Actually, you don’t see anything. Everything is off screen. I was like, ‘OK, if he’s a psycho and his pride is that he works in packing and shipping, what would I do? I would put the pieces of body in tupperware.’ I have to put myself in the skin of the guy and say, ‘If I’m a psycho and if I killed and if I was a packer and shipper, what would I do?’ So, you can imagine how my mind is sick. [Laughs]

No, I love it. I’m very much on the same wavelength. You’ve mentioned that this film, in certain sequences, gives you the effect of taking LSD without taking LSD. Can you talk about that, especially in the last sequence?

You’re right. For the final scene I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do? What am I going to do? The solution was pulling at me and I didn’t like it. I was like, what does paradise look to me? OK, white. Paradise is white. How am I going to do it? I was watching some films from the 1960’s and actually they have taken LSD — I can assure you of that. You don’t made those films if haven’t taken LSD. It’s impossible. One day, I was like this it. I tried to make it without taking LSD because that’s not the best combination if you’re a director.

While you’ve been on the festival tour are there any films you’ve enjoyed?

Oh, yes. Very much so. I loved to go and watch Dallas Buyers Club. I loved to go and watch Gravity. Gravity I didn’t feel like I was watching a movie. I felt like I had an experience in space. Lately, I saw this Argentina film. I don’t know how to pronounce it…

Wild Tales?

Wild Tales! Yeah, I really loved it. It shows all these things that you want to do. You feel like strangling people in the street or punching people in the nose because they make you angry and you never do it. But in this movie they do it. It’s so refreshing. I came out and I really had the biggest smile. I also saw the Japanese animated The Tale of Princess Kaguya and it was so beautiful. I cried from the beginning to the end. I go to the theater around three times a week. I love going to films.

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The Voices is now on VOD and in theaters.


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