Left to Right: Mathieu Amalric as Nasser Ali and Maria de Medeiros as Faringuisse in Chicken with Plums.
Marjane Satrapi and Vincent ParonnaudsChicken With Plums achieves the rare feat of framing a downward spiral with grace and beauty.
Adapted from the graphic novel written by Satrapi, Plums is the second volume in a trilogy that began with 2007s Persepolis, highlighting the evolution of a family and country.
Set in 1950s Tehran, renowned musician Nasser-Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric) has come to terms with taking his life after losing the final connection to his one true love. Finding no instrument worthy of replacing it, Nasser-Ali decides to confine himself to bed to await death. As the days count down, Khan questions if the life he has lived was one worth living.
The film runs entirely on smoke and mirrors and succeeds accordingly. With the entire plot established in the first ten minutes, the real trick is keeping the writing, acting and cinematography so phantasmagorically high that you cant stop watching.
Amalric is consummate as Nasser-Ali. For a film that is so character driven, its a yeomans delight to carry the emotional weight of the film squarely on his capable shoulders. Fortunately, Amalric delivers with strong-man calm as he shifts between raging id and chilly super ego.
Supplanted by an internationally renowned cast, the support serves the film best by clearing the lane for Amalric. Maria De Medeiros, is an equally tragic figure as Nasser-Alis wife Farranguisse. Chiara Mastraianni is nothing short of sleek and sexy while Isabella Rossellinis cameo is flat-out devastating.
Plums' aesthetic is a character in its own right as the directing duo give homage to their influences including German Expressionism, French philosophy and Iranian culture. Major kudos go to cinematographer Christophe Beaucame for translating these seemingly separate concepts into one cohesive piece without being heavy-handed or overwrought. Beaucame beautifully wraps the film in chiffons of black and white to give the film a wonderful fragility.
Satrapi and Paronaud have fine-tuned their role of good cop/bad cop as they flesh out a better balance between visuals and character with live actors. As with Plums' companion piece Persepolis, the tandem focus is not only on family, but the concept of using death as a springboard to talk about life.
After making the rounds in the festival circuit in 2011, the film finally makes its way to the States. Sure to be an art-house favorite in 2012, Chicken With Plums is an early contender for Best Foreign Film come Oscar season.