- Running time:
- 91 minutes
- Mathieu Amalric -
- Nasser Ali
- Édouard Baer -
- Maria de Medeiros -
- Golshifteh Farahani -
- Éric Caravaca -
Chicken With Plums is not a thoroughly delectable concoction, but its exotic flavor is worth sampling.
Iranian author Marjane Satrapi co-directed from her 2006 book, which is slighter as source material than her wonderful Persepolis graphic novels. Consequently, the film (**1/2 out of four; rated PG; opens Friday in select cities) is hampered by a story that doesn't have the sweeping resonance of her previous work.
Where the filmed version of Persepolis was animated in a style very similar to Satrapi's books, Chicken With Plums is told as a live action drama, in a non-linear, magical realist style and primarily in French with English subtitles.
The film fills in some of the gaps of the spare book and adds more dimension and back story to the lead character, Nasser-Ali Khan (Matthieu Amalric), an Iranian musician who loses the will to live after his beloved violin is broken. It also combines comedy, heartbreak and mysticism in intriguing ways.
Amalric does a fine job in the lead role, and his expressive face makes Nasser-Ali more sympathetic than the nihilistic character in the book.
In the original version, Nasser-Ali played a tar, a long-necked, stringed instrument that resembles a lute and is popular in Iran and the Caucasus Mountains. Since it's an Iranian tale, it's not quite clear why the instrument was changed, except perhaps in the hope of reaching a larger, mainstream audience. It seems a strange revision, but it does emphasize the universality of artistry.
Living in Tehran in 1958, Nasser-Ali decides he is ready to die, after his instrument is demolished and no replacements measure up. He takes to his bed and awaits his death. As he waits for deliverance, he is filled with memories of his early musical apprenticeship; his beloved mother, Parvine (Isabella Rossellini); his one true love, Irâne (Golshifteh Farahani); and his unhappy marriage to Faringuisse (Maria de Medeiros). He even has a discussion with Azrael, the Islamic Angel of Death.
An appealing sense of the absurd runs through Nasser-Ali's string of melancholy reveries. Prior to his decision to die, he traveled to a distant corner, his young son in tow, to buy a prized violin from sleazy salesman Houshang (Jamel Debbouze). This character brings vibrant life to a film that is often muted in tone. The salesman persuades Nasser-Ali to slip some opium in his son's milk to calm him. In the following scene, the young boy is seen asking a babysitter if she has any opium.
While Nasser Ali is self-absorbed and petulant, and his decision to leave his two young children without a father is indefensible, the story is told more akin to a fable than a factual account. Shot entirely in a studio, the film has a stylized look. Painted backdrops are intentionally artificial to intensify the story's allegorical nature.
The week in which Nasser-Ali awaits death provides an opportunity to look at the vagaries of life. The disparate threads of his existence — told with melodrama and outlandish humor, and in fantasy sequences — don't always cohere into a rich tapestry, but they are portrayed with distinctive artistry.
Chicken With Plums is a surreal tale told in an anecdotal style. Seeing its lead character as symbolic of pre-Islamic Revolution Iran works intriguingly in this contest. The story is a rueful, occasionally whimsical, lament for a richly artistic life.
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