Chicken with Plums | Movie review
Marjane Satrapi turns family history into melancholy magical realism.
In this live-action follow-up to their extremely successful animated film Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud again mine Satrapi’s family history for a tale of love and death, presented with an odd mix of visual whimsy, narrative digressions, and a curious blend of wit and melancholy. Mathieu Amalric, riveting as always, plays Nasser-Ali, an accomplished violinist who’s only a mediocre husband and father. His bitter wife, Faringuisse (Maria de Medeiros), can barely tolerate his selfishness, but when he decides he’s ready to die and takes to his bed for a passive suicide by inaction, her affection shows through.
The camera glides around the characters as the plot bobs and weaves between present and past, with the whole movie narrated by Azraël, the angel of death (Edouard Baer). We get glimpses of Nasser-Ali’s childhood, his dutiful but resigned courtship of Faringuisse, and his long-lost first love (Golshifteh Farahani). Azraël even relates a flashback of his own.
All these tangents and Satrapi and Paronnaud’s visual verve create an interesting if sometimes exhausting tension. We know things won’t end well—the film makes that clear early on—but the playful tone invites us to hope against our knowledge. So it goes with stories, the film seems to say: They take us down side paths for a while, but they always end in death.