Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mathieu Amalric, Golshifteh Farahani, Maria de Medeiros, Edouard Baer, Eric Caravaca, Chiara Mastroianni, Mathis Bour, Enna Balland, Didier Flamand, Serge Avedikian, Rona Hartner, Jamel Debbouze, Isabella Rossellini, Frédéric Saurel, Christian Friedel
Written by: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud
Directed by: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some drug content, violent images, sensuality and smoking
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 93
Date: 09/03/2011

Chicken with Plums (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Fried Effects

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After documenting her astounding life story in the graphic novel Persepolis, and then adapting it to an equally astounding 2007 animated feature film, Marjane Satrapi has now stepped up for her second film, effortlessly sidestepping any kind of sophomore slump. Chicken with Plums is as charmingly romantic as Persepolis was fiercely political; it's as magical and as deeply felt as anything else I've seen this year.

Chicken with Plums stars Mathieu Amalric as violinist Nasser-Ali Khan. As the story begins, Nasser-Ali has decided to die, for two reasons. One is that he ran into the love of his life, Irâne (Golshifteh Farahani), in the street and she failed to recognize him. And the other is that his wife, Faringuisse (Maria de Medeiros), smashed his violin.

The story otherwise flows totally out of order, as if in a flood of memories, thoughts, and dreams. Some of these are otherworldly, such as an animated sequence or a sequence in which Nasser-Ali is visited by Azrael, the angel of death. In other sequences, the film looks forward to the grownup lives of Nasser-Ali's children, after his death. His son becomes an ugly American, and his daughter becomes a sexy, cigarette-smoking, black-clad spectre around a gambling table (played memorably by Chiara Mastroianni).

But the bulk of the story deals with Nasser-Ali and the women in his life. Learning the violin, he perfects the instrument, but cannot play from his heart until he meets Irâne, falls in love, and then loses her because of her father. His broken heart therefore allows him to play with soul, and he achieves greatness. Later, he meets Faringuisse, who loves him and is willing to put in all the extra work it takes to marry an artist. But later, after two children, she loses patience with him and has no idea how to win him back.

Satrapi and her co-director/co-writer Vincent Paronnaud -- who also worked on Persepolis -- present all this like a big, full, red, beating heart... huge and passionate and colorful. The film could be classified as "magical realism," since it's clearly not based in reality, but the outsized emotions are absolutely real. Its various pieces operate as if from the point of view of someone in love: ideas and feelings flit past with no logic or reason, but with perfect emotional clarity.

Satrapi shows admirable sympathy for her characters, especially the depressed Nasser-Ali, who is still capable of beautiful gestures, and also Faringuisse, who -- in any other movie -- would be a thankless harpy role. Satrapi shows her in her private moments, and we get an insight into her feelings, rather than just the guarded, frustrated side of herself that she shows to Nasser-Ali. Additionally, Irâne also gets a private moment that humanizes her, and breaks our hearts.

The oddity of this film is the through-line: that Nasser-Ali has chosen to die, and nothing changes his mind or alters his course. It's very similar to this past summer's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (or even Romeo and Juliet). It may be a turnoff for viewers looking for escapism, but for die-hard romantics, the lack of a happy resolution and a phony "happily ever after" ending makes the stakes and the payoff that much better.

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