Catherine Deneuve, who plays the role of the mother in the French version, is re-recording her part this summer, joined by Gena Rowlands as the feisty grandmother. Other cast members are yet to be announced.
Satrapi emphasizes that the story is a universal one, about a young girl's coming-of-age, albeit with an additional motive. It certainly seems to have caught the imagination of buyers at Cannes: besides Diaphana in France, the original version has been sold to Cineart (Benelux), Sandrew M (Scandinavia), Vertigo (Spain), and Bim (Italy).
'When people talk about Iran, they think of flying carpets before 1979 and flying rockets after 1979,' says Satrapi. 'If people watch our film and see human beings, then I've achieved my goal.'
Satrapi said she hadn't considered becoming a filmmaker before studios got in touch following a book tour of the US. 'One [studio] wanted to make a kind of Beverly Hills 90210 in Tehran,' she laughs. Instead, the novelist turned to Parisian friends to take her vivacious story of growing up in revolutionary Iran onto celluloid.
Marc-Antoine Robert, head of business affairs at France 3 Cinema, and Xavier Rigault, then a booker for Europalace (Pathe and Gaumont theatres), were setting up a production company, 2.4.7 Films; the $8m Persepolis became their first production. Satrapi already shared a studio with co-writer and director Vincent Paronnaud, a fellow graphic artist and short filmmaker.
Satrapi and Paronnaud rewrote Satrapi's life story for the screen, from her time as a rebellious nine-year-old during the Iran-Iraq war, through to her emigration to France at the age of 24. 'We met every morning at 6:30 for four months at a cafe by our studio, writing, erasing and reworking the script together in pencil,' remembers Satrapi.
Armed only with the script, and keen for Persepolis to be seen as 'a film that just happens to be animated', Robert and Rigault recruited a formidable team of enthusiasts to the project, including French distributor Diaphana's Michel Saint-Jean and Hengameh Panahi of then Celluloid Dreams, now Dreamachine (who have been handling world sales).
The financial breakthrough came with the support of associate producer Kathleen Kennedy, who had wanted to buy the rights to the film. Kennedy approached Sony Pictures' Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, who pre-bought the film - rare, say the producers, for a French movie, let alone a black and white animation.
The team had meanwhile set about recruiting a stellar cast for the French-language voice-over. Catherine Deneuve had previously commissioned Satrapi when guest editor of French Vogue. 'We sent her the script, to play my mother, and she said yes right away, it was as simple as that,' says Satrapi. 'And then Chiara [Mastroianni, Deneuve's daughter] wanted to come for a voice test. She was perfect to play me.' Danielle Darrieux became the voice of Satrapi's grandmother and Simon Akbarian her father.
Satrapi directed the voice recordings, playing the parts ('including the dog!') opposite each actor. Then came the long process of animating more than 600 characters, using traditional techniques. 'Black and white animation is abstract enough for anyone to identify with the story. If we'd used actors, it would've become the third world, and the film a kind of science fiction,' says Satrapi.