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Friday, 19 October 2012 00:00

'Chicken with Plums' offers an unusual, tasty morsel

'Chicken with Plums' offers an unusual, tasty morsel
Written by Diane Carson
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About this Media...

  • Director: Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
  • Dates: Opens October 19, 2012

Highly stylized and engagingly theatrical, Chicken with Plums relies on the considerable talent of French actor Mathieu Amalric to make his tragedy of lost love appealing. Most of the time, it works, as the story jumps backward and forward in time, visualizes imagined scenarios, and boldly depicts Azraël, Angel of Death.

The title comes from writer and co-director Marjane Satrapi’s novel and identifies Nasser-Ali's favorite dish as chicken with plums. As embodied by Amalric, Nasser-Ali emerges as a world famous violinist, a musician who communicates through his music the intense emotion of the tragic loss of the love of his life. Yes, the film subscribes to the conceit that an artist must suffer to achieve great art. Impacted by all this, Nasser-Ali's devoted wife and his two children endure Ali's sad resignation, until, on the street one day, Nasser unexpectedly sees and addresses his love, named Iran, though the beautiful Iran says she doesn't remember him. That plus the smashing of his violin cause Nasser to decide to die, entertaining his suicide options amidst his fantasies and remembrances.

As in their previous work Persepolis, co-directors Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud present a unique vision, here a blend of animation with live action, all clearly, intentionally set on a soundstage (in Berlin, in fact) aiming for maximum melodramatic effect. Aiding that effort, Amalric exudes a star's magnetism, as he did in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He's ably supported by Isabella Rossellini and Chiara Mastroianni, among others.

With the central time period 1958 in Tehran, metaphorical allusions to Iranian history repeatedly suggest themselves, though no heavy-handed comments push that agenda. Instead, Satrapi and Paronnaud use art direction and sound to anchor the film in Nasser's final, fantasy filled days as communicated through Azraël's voiceover narration. A bit like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five, Nasser-Ali has come unstuck in time as his mind wanders from Sophocles' death to his son's and his daughter's future lives, all of this depicted. The episodes build to a climax, though one scene set in America misses its mark by a mile. Chicken with Plum's playful overlay occasionally undermines the drama as heartbreak yields too often to self-indulgence; other events offer lovely whimsy. In English and French with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.

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