CHICKEN WITH PLUMS
(directed by Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnauad, 2011)
**** (out of 5)
> What a delight this import was! So much fun, I watched it twice!
. CHICKEN WITH PLUMS is a highly stylized romp about Teheran’s greatest violinist, who gives up the will to live when his frustrated wife destroys his prized Stradivarius, taking to his bed to await death. It’s a colorful and imaginative visual feast, from the same folks who brought us the thoughtful animation PERSEPOLIS. Every shot is carefully considered and perfectly lit. Exceptional artistry imbues every frame. It’s a sprawling tale, told in fits and starts, using flashbacks to gradually fill in the backstory.
. Lead actor Mathieu Amalric is just wonderful. No big surprise. He was wonderful in THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, MUNICH, and QUANTUM OF SOLACE among others, and he looks to be wonderful in the new Wes Anderson confection THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, just hitting theatres as I write this. (Yep. French cinema is the bomb!) All the actors here are wonderful. The overarching motif here is whimsy- but viewer be warned: ultimately, this is a sad, sad film, made palatable by the light touch used until the central tragedy reveals itself.
. One interesting note: it is disconcerting to see French actors speaking in French but playing Persians. This has always been an awkward thing in movies when one culture tells another culture’s story. (Think of all those incongruous British accents in old movies, where Englishmen are portraying ancient Romans and such with thick Oxford accents. It opens an uncomfortable disconnect in your head that cannot be resolved, pulling you away from the film and making the sense of location feel fake and artificial.) Thus, there was always something that kept me at arm’s length from this otherwise fine film. I don’t know that there is a solution, except to cast Iranian actors to play Iranians, French actors to play Frenchmen- and tell foreign stories in the authentic languages actually spoken by the characters. Although the surrounding mountains evoke Teheran, seeing all these French/Persians drew me away from the magic of this otherwise fine film.
> But don’t let this deter you. You will love this zany love letter to the human heart.
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