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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Chicken with Plums Review

Golshifteh Farahani (left) and Mathieu Amalric (right) in Chicken with Plums
Sony Pictures Classics
Chicken with Plums Review
2012, 93 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some drug content, violent images, sensuality, and smoking

Chicken with Plums is a beautiful new film from directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Parannaud (Persepolis) and based on Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same name.  The film follows Nasser Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), a violinist, who, after his precious violin breaks, decides to confine himself in his room and die.  What follows is a collection of dreams, memories, and backstories of the characters and what led them to where they are now. 

One of Satrapi’s greatest strengths is her ability to find humor in serious situations and that quality transfers here beautifully.  Though the film is centered on loss and death, there are moments of quirky wit and humor.  Even the slightest detail such as an object flying through the air and making a cartoonish sound is a nice touch on such a thematically serious film.

In addition, Satrapi and Paronnaud have a wonderful ability to create moments of such beauty that they touch my heart in ways that few others have.  The greatest example of this is a scene in which Nasser Ali Khan and the love of his life, Iran (Golshifteh Farahani), are in a quiet movie theater watching Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera and he tries to hold her hand.  She pulls her hand away, but after a few seconds, puts her hand in his.  When she does this Amalric’s face lights up with a love-struck smile.  The smile that Satrapi captures is one of pure beauty and happiness.  For once in his life, Nasser Ali Khan is happy and this is a stunning moment in the film.

This scene, and the others, wouldn’t have been so effective without the incredible actors featured in the film.  Mathieu Amalric gives what could be one of his best performances in this film.  Though his character is not fundamentally happy and isn’t for most of the movie, he is a natural at shifting from moments of sadness to moments of pure joy (such as the one mentioned above).  His performance never feels forced and he exudes a unique charm. 

Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet) plays the mother of Nasser Ali Khan and Maria de Medeiros (Pulp Fiction) plays Faranguisse, Khan’s wife who he never loved.  Both are quite good, especially Medeiros in the relatively limited screen time that she is given.

Along with the performances, the visuals of the film are gorgeous.  The backgrounds of the film are all animated in a style that resembles the directors’ other film Persepolis.  Most of the images are heavily stylized and are garnished with striking colors. 

The story of Chicken with Plums is very tragic, but it is deep and moving.  Satrapi and Paronnaud embellish much of the central story with flash-forwards and flashbacks that sometimes take on some magical realism that lifts the film to the next level.  The magical realism lightens the film some and gives it a sense of wonder.  These magical scenes are seamlessly woven in with the more serious scenes and this mix makes the film extremely enjoyable to watch, while at the same time making it enriching and satisfying.

Overall, Chicken with Plums is a film that is worth seeking out, even if it is not playing near you.  It is magical, touching, funny, and sad and one of the year’s best films thus far.

-Joshua Handler