Chicken with Plums
Synopsis: Acclaimed Tehrani violinist Nasser Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric) no longer has the will to live. His beloved Stradivarius is broken and unable to be replaced and his long-lost lover didn’t recognised him in the street. Nasser takes to bed and awaits Azrael, the Angel of Death. As he waits, he relives his amazing life through dreams, revealing love and secrets.
Musician's past has melancholic undertones.
Neither the director’s style nor the mood allow for mournful contemplation
MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: At the beginning of Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s expressive family history, Chicken with Plums, a famous Iranian musician, Nasser Ali (Mathieu Amalric), encounters woman on the streets of Tehran who he instantly recognises. But when she fails to respond in kind he is devastated, and when he arrives home he decides that life cannot go on and that he is ready to die. An artist, and not to mention squeamish, he decides not to take direction action but merely wait, and so the audience sits in company with this angry, mournful man, experiencing his past as the days pass.
The follow-up to 2007’s Persepolis is the second feature from the Iranian graphic artist-turned-filmmaker and her French collaborator, but where that previous work was animated in a deliriously hand-wrought style, the new film is a live action piece. But the actors are placed in sets that feel concocted from deeply held memories, so there’s an authenticity that has the offbeat magic of memory, and drawn inserts provide landscapes and city skylines.
Satrapi writes from a combination of family legend and personal memory, and like many exiles, the Paris-based artist captures a melancholic truth about her homeland that is divided between judgment and longing. This pre-Revolutionary middle-class world is dominated by lives that never quite turn out as hoped – marriages sour, parents dominate their children’s decisions, and misfortune feels like it lurks with bleakly comic intent. The story makes clear early on that Nasser died eight days after making his decision, so there’s no need for mystery. The focus is on understanding this unpredictable subject, who has abandoned music and now mortality.
Neither the director’s style nor the mood allow for mournful contemplation. A death in the wings brings as much whimsy as heartbreak to the narrative, and there are sudden stylistic diversions that illuminate Nasser Ali’s past and his family’s future, most notably an exaggerated American sitcom that imagines his son’s life in America as a Persian Married with Children. Life goes on without you, the movie notes, in the same way that it carries a life along even when you don’t get what you want.
No character is too small for the story’s attention, at least in passing, and there is a knowing turn by Isabella Rossellini as Nasser Ali’s mother, as well as a steady appreciation of his wife, Faringuisse (Maria de Madeiros), who is first sketched with shrewish bluntness before his own story reveals a woman who grew up worshipping her talented husband and can’t understand why his talent and affection for her have both soured. If it all sounds layered and overly calibrated, then the give and take is instinctive and the results almost seductive – a lost world comes alive, and an unknown life is reconsidered. A journey with Satrapi and Paronnaud has no simple outcome, and in this case even the Devil drops by to pass the time. He’s not alone in enjoying what is transpiring.
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