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Chicken with Plums - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Chicken with Plums
Directing: A-
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A-
Special Effects: B+

If you were one of the few people who happened to see the trailer to Chicken with Plums, you might have wondered what the hell the movie had to do with the food its title referenced. As it turns out, thankfully, the movie itself makes it clear in due time. In the most literal sense, it's a dish made by a woman suffering unrequited love for a man who always loved someone else. And also literally, it's served on his death bed.

It's not a spoiler, really, to say that Nasser-Ali (Mathieu Amalric) dies. The narrator makes this apparent to us within the first ten minutes of the movie. What this story tells is how he gets to that point. In fact, it counts the days, after Nasser-Ali decides he has nothing left to live for, and he simply gets into bed and waits to die.

Nasser-Ali is a violinist. His prized violin has been broken, and he searches in vain for a suitable replacement. It seems at first that this is just the story of a brilliant musician who can't live without his prized instrument. But this violin turns out to be a key object in Nasser-Ali's love story. It is the love of his life, Irâne (a luminescent Golshifteh Farahani), denied him by her father when he asks him for her hand, who makes him transcend musical technique and reach a higher plane with his playing.

In the meantime, Nasser-Ali's wife, Faringuisse (Maria de Medeiros), his been deeply in love with him since childhood. But he's never loved her; he married her, really, for lack of any other option -- pressured by his mother, played by the always warm and lovely Isabella Rossellini.

We get to see this story unfold in the present of the days until Nasser-Ali's death, as well as in both flashbacks with the women in his life, and flash-forwards of how his children's lives turn out. In one case, there's a rather loopy sequence with Nasser'Ali's grown son ending up in America with candy-colored gluttonous fat children. The whole sequence doesn't work perfectly but is a fascinating window into how Americans are viewed from the outside.

This was written and directed by Vincent Paronnaud, after all, the same man behind the equally lovely Persepolis. That movie was animated, though, and one might argue that Chicken with Plums would have worked as well as an animated film. That said, this is about as great as it possibly could be as a whimsically stylized live-action film.

Chicken with Plums isn't exactly a special effects extravaganza, but its effects are worth mentioning. They are often decidedly low-tech, and yet they serve the story with perfect charm, even with its undercurrent of melancholy -- something the permeates the entire story. This movie has a style all its own, and with the possible exception of that American sequence, it always works.

There is a healthy dose of dark humor as well, for which Paronnaud is well suited. There's a funny sequence of suicide possibilities Nasser-Ali goes through in his mind before deciding just to get into bed and basically starve himself to death. One might wonder whether or not to sympathize with him; this man is basically abandoning his own children only because of the loss of the one object that still tied him to the love of his life -- who is not his wife, the woman who did something he declared unforgivable.

But that, perhaps, is the challenge, and what gives Chicken with Plums its core of integrity. This is the best kind of storytelling, because none of our emotional reactions are dictated to us. There is merely the suggestion of moral ambiguity, wrapped in a lovely, beautiful package.

Maria de Medeiros and Mathieu Amalric are mismatched ingredients in CHICKEN WITH PLUMS.

Overall: A-
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