Chicken with Plums (2012) Review

Regrets of the past can touch you forever.
(Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

Better to have loved and lost, than never loved at all…or so the old saying goes. For some it’s not so easy. After all, when you’ve lost the one thing that made life worth living, what point is there to go on? A difficult question to be sure and one brought to the forefront in Chicken With Plums, the new film from acclaimed graphic novelist/director Marjane Satrapi and partner Vincent Paronnaud. Deftly juggling fanciful humor and oversaturated melodrama, Chicken With Plums is a charming and whimsical story about the importance of love and the burdens of regret.

Nasser Ali (Mathieu Amalric) has decided to die. His only desire is to seclude himself alone in his bedroom, and await the inevitable. But…why? Life is seemingly idyllic for the now-tortured musician: beautiful and healthy children, a wife who loves him, even a supportive brother. It matters not, as Nasser Ali has become so overcome with melancholy that death is the only feasible way to end his pain. As the last days of Nasser Ali’s life drag on, it’s revealed that all is not as it seems. A past full of loss and unfortunate circumstance haunts him now more than ever. Add in the destruction of a treasured violin, and the stresses have become too much to bear. Soon, all aspects of Nasser Ali’s existence are examined, from his defining experiences as a young man to his most recent heartbreaks. Continual reminders of old losses and the constant interference of his current resentments push Nasser Ali along on a steady path to the great beyond.

The beautiful part of Chicken With Plums is the tone in which it handles the morbid subject matter. It’s enjoyable and charming; despite being about a man so forlorn that he spends all of his time in his pajamas hoping to keel over. What’s more is that it is funny. Really funny. Satrapi’s sensibilities as a humorist and illustrator are in full effect here, and lend uniqueness to this film that really strikes a chord. Cutesy animated segments abound, along with hyper-stylized flash-forwards detailing the hilariously grim futures of Nasser Ali’s children. While it might sound absurd on paper, it works commendably in the film to lighten a potentially dreary affair. It even walks the line into the supernatural, with conversations between Nasser Ali and the Angel of Death standing out as some of the film’s best segments.

The production value is superb as well. The directors manage to find an appealing balance between illustration and photography. There’s cohesiveness to the visual style that links the animated segments to the live action. The streets of 1950’s Tehran are flush with color, and pleasingly saturated skies loom over the characters heads. It’s easy on the eyes, and almost makes the audiences feel like they’re watching less of a movie, and more a fable come to life. Naturally, the music is beautiful as well. Thematically, the violin plays a huge part in the film’s storyline. As expected, there is no shortage of haunting and beautiful orchestral violin accompanying the films dramatic moments.

The cast stands deserves a great mention as well. Amalric is extremely easy to get attached to as Nasser Ali, hitting all the right notes at the right times. He’s undoubtedly pathetic and buffoonish, but exudes an undeniable charm. For an actor who may be more familiar in serious, humorless roles in films like Munich and Quantum Of Solace, he brings a warmth and sincerity to the character and contributes another of the film’s major strengths. His supporting cast is wonderful as well, especially the women. Maria de Medeiros and Isabella Rossellini lend great performances as Nasser Ali’s underappreciated wife and frustrated mother, respectively. But most memorable of all is the stunning Golshifteh Farahani as Irâne. Portraying the one great passion in Nasser Ali’s life, Farahani positively lights up the screen whenever she’s on camera. She possesses a smile that will melt hearts in theaters everywhere, just like Nasser Ali’s in the story. Behind her beauty lies a committed heart-wrenching performance. Possessing the least amount of humor in the story, Farahani is tasked with the crucial role of tethering the serious emotion and light humor that abounds in the story. She succeeds admirably. When it’s all said and done and the laughs have been had, it’s still easy to understand why there is so much genuine sadness left at the end.

It might sound like Chicken With Plums has too much going on in it for its own good, and audiences may be caught off guard by its slightly frenetic storytelling and on-the-fly switches between media.  Honestly though, there’s just a lot to love in this film. A wonderful story, with the perfect balance of comedy and tragedy, creates an extremely fulfilling film that audiences everywhere are sure to connect with.