“Life is a breath, life is a sigh. It is this sigh that you must seize.”
Chicken with Plums (2011) is a lesser known drama created by acclaimed directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. Like the original animated film Persepolis (2007), this film is an adaptation of a graphic novel written by Satrapi, and co-produced by France, Germany and Belgium.
Set in Teheran in 1958, Nasser Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric), the most renowned violinist in the country, is trapped in a loveless marriage. His wife, Faranguisse (Maria de Medeiros), attempts to regain his attention, but their argument ends up in her smashing his beloved Stradivarius violin. Frantic over his loss, Nasser Ali looks for a new instrument to no avail, as nothing can recreate the sound of his old, trusted music companion.
Doused in despair, he decides to die in 8 days. Lying down on his bed, Nasser Ali tells Azrael, the Angel of Death (Edward Baer), about his young years, his first steps into the world of music, the love of his life, Irane (Golshifteh Farahani), and of course, his favourite dish – chicken with plums. Memories from the distant past blend with visions of the unknown future amidst the mystic smoke of a cigarette and magically breathtaking scenery.
An artful story told by a middle-aged man, Chicken with plums delivers a gourmet recipe that encapsulates the bittersweet flavours of life and death. In the background of magic realism, CGI and animation sequences melt into each other, balancing between the folklore of Persian traditions and the westernised aesthetics of Amelie (2001), or The Fall (2006). On a superficial level, it is the tragic story of a couple doomed to love and lose. Yet on a deeper, more allegorical level, Satrapi’s nostalgia for the country she was forced to leave behind, Iran, shines through the name of Nasser Ali’s forlorn love, Irane.
The plot can be weak at moments, and the action limited. However, the actors’ brilliant performances seem to push the characters out of rigid and comic outlines into raw emotions and tragic revelations. In particular, Mathieu Amalric steals the show, effortlessly jumping from one emotion to the next throughout his most important life stages. Perhaps what is missing from this visually mesmerising film is more screen time and character development for Irane, whose story is quickly brushed aside.
With a typical French sense of humour, the dreamy narrative comprises of an introduction and eight separate stories, each responding to the days of pre-mortem reflections of joy and pain. Either in flashbacks or flash-forwards, light is shed on motives, love, melancholy, music and poetry found in the people, the houses, alleys and cities of Iran before the Islamic Revolution. Chicken with plums is a hot served meal left untouched by Nasser Ali, but a wonderful opportunity for us to taste the real meaning of life, regret and happiness.
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