The Way Forward: In Post-Quarantine Paris, Marjane Satrapi is Getting Back to Creativity

The director of the new Marie Curie biopic Radioactive, now on Amazon Prime, is wasting no time returning to a life of painting and writing.

Paris is no longer in quarantine anymore, so we’re back to some kind of normality. People obviously wear masks when they are at the shops, but the hotels are empty because there are not many tourists. It’s OK, though; we have a life.

Lockdown was horrible, because it was impossible for me to create anything or feel motivated to do anything. I was stressed the whole time. I get my emotion from people, and I couldn’t get any sense of emotional connection just from walking empty streets and watching films. The laws in France were strict, so I could not be more than half a mile away from my house and I was only allowed to be outside for one hour per day. For someone like me, who always walks a minimum of six miles per day – that’s how I get all my anguish out! – it was quite difficult. I was like a lion in a cage. I knew that it was the right thing to do, to save people’s lives, but I was still really bored. The only thing I could do was take it upon myself to do what I had to do.

I grew up under a dictatorship in Iran where everything was controlled, and quarantine was a weird, visceral reminder of that lack of freedom. I felt a lot of frustration, but since things have been open again, I’ve been very active. The first day after the lockdown, I started working on a script. My past two films were made from somebody else’s script, but now I had this urgent desire to tell my own story, something which was about interaction between people. For one and a half months, I could not work in my studio and could not paint in preparation for my next exhibition, but now I’m back there and I am painting with a sense of fury. I had this explosion of energy, so I can paint for days on end. One of my favorite things is to walk in the streets of Paris, and I’m very happy I can do that again; I really like to walk and to watch people. These days, I basically paint, I write my script, I work on other projects, I walk, and I meet people. It’s quite a lot to fill up my day!

In some ways, my life now feels somewhat similar to how it was before during quarantine. Outside, the cafes are open, but I’m mostly working all alone in my studio. I feel good at the moment, but I’m also very worried because so many people lost their jobs and it’s generally a bad situation for everyone.

Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie in Marjane Satrapi’s Radioactive.

People are saying that the whole world will change after the pandemic, that we won’t touch each other anymore and that we’ll only talk to each other on Zoom, but I don’t believe that. Human nature is human nature and we have our habits. I think this will probably affect us for a while, but as humans we need to be close to one another. I think we will come together. I don’t usually like meeting with people and I don’t like it when there are too many people on the streets, but in this moment I’ve realized that I actually love people and have an absolute need to have interactions with others. So I think I will now complain less and engage with people more!

My movie Radioactive has now been released twice in France in just a few months – I’m not sure that has ever happened before with a movie. It came out for two days – but then the lockdown happened. And now it’s in theaters again. It was like I had a baby, the doctors told me the baby was dead, and then I mourned the baby – but then two-and-a-half months after, the doctors told me, “The baby is not dead, he’s actually alive now.” So now I’m learning to love the baby again!

In how it portrays science and scientists, Radioactive is important in waking up people’s consciences. There are science-deniers out there, but science is not some kind of hocus-pocus, science is actually the only thing that’s factual. Just because certain facts don’t please you, that doesn’t mean you can change them – facts are facts. We used to be monkeys, but rather than staying scared of volcanoes and thunder, like all the other animals, we tried to understand the secrets of nature, tried to figure out its rules and laws. This is what science is about, and it’s what’s made us human beings rather than monkeys. As a human being, you cannot deny science – or you go back to being a monkey again.

Iranian-born artist and filmmaker Marjane Satrapi’s latest film, Radioactive, a biopic of Marie Curie starring Rosamund Pike and Sam Riley based on Lauren Redniss’ graphic novel Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale Of Love And Fallout, is out now on Amazon Prime. Satrapi, who lives in Paris, is the author of the hugely acclaimed, award-winning series of Persepolis graphic novels, which tell the story of Satrapi’s youth in Iran in the 1970s and 80s, living through the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq. (Satrapi’s other books include Embroideries and Chicken with Plums, and she is also the author of several children’s books, including Monsters are Afraid of the Moon.) The 2007 animated film adaptation of Persepolis, which Satrapi wrote and directed with Vincent Paronnaud, garnered huge international acclaim, won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film and won two Cesar Awards for Best First Film and Best Adaptation. Her other films include Chicken with Plums (2011), based on her book by the same name, the crime comedy Gang of the Jotas (2013), and 2014 black comedy The Voices starring Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick. Satrapi lives in Paris, where her illustrations appear regularly in newspapers and magazines all around the world.