Review of “Chicken with Plums” by Marjane Satrapi

Chicken with Plums is a French drama directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. The film premiered in the Competition program of the 68th Venice International Film Festival, on 3 September 2011. The film is based on the graphic novel of the same name, though it is not autobiographical and animated like Persepolis, their first film, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Film. Persepolis was based on Satrapi’s graphic novels that tell the story of her childhood and adolescence in Iran before and during the fall of the Shah’s regime and the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war, as well as her exile and return to Iran.

 The story, narrated by Azraël, the Angel of Death, follows the world-renowned Iranian violinist Nasser-Ali Khan who decides to quit his life and die. The reason for such a drastic measure seems to be his broken violin, but by the end of the film we come to understand more deeply his reasons: a problem we can all relate to: Love. So, he goes to bed and awaits death. During the eight days the waiting lasts, the story hopscotches from the past to the future, showing us his past and what his children will become when he dies and from memories to feverish dreams and thoughts all the way to Socrates to explain what brought Nasser-Ali to this distressful point and thus, the film lets the audience accompany him on this strange and uncommonly beautiful journey.

After 16 minutes we know Nasser Ali has died so the film is not about waiting to see whether he will die or not in the end but whether his choice made sense, inviting us to meditate on our own choices and life and thus, the rest of the film being a countdown to his death.

This tale, named after Nasser-Ali Khan’s favorite dish, is a study of love loss, melancholy, grief, music, art and life. The story is told out of order with, as we have mentioned earlier, a flood of thoughts, memories and reveries and various cinematic tricks and a realism so exaggerated that it actually humanizes even more the protagonist. The film is almost surreal, derived from French films such as Amélie Poulain (with some unworldly sequences such as the animated one or Azraël’s visit) and the Brechtian theatre and sometimes even resembles a silent film. The condensed particles of water are very present in the film under the recurring shapes of smoke (in some of the most remarkable sequence changings) clouds or breath, Nasser-Ali Khan’s mother stating that “smoke is the soul’s food” and not surprisingly at all taking the form of smoke after her death. The cast is strong. Indeed, Mathieu Amalric owns the film with his complex performance. Isabella Rossellini and Chiara Mastroianni are just splendid and memorable in their respective roles as Khan’s mother and daughter. Olivier Bernet’s score adds to the mournful atmosphere when Nasser Ali is not pouring his heart and soul in his melancholic violin playing and Stéphane Roche’s editing adds to the surreal feature of the film and succeeds in keeping the time shifts clear and comprehensible. Christophe Beaucarne’s photography makes the film beautiful to watch and inviting.

Chicken with Plums is romantic, charming, fascinating, unique, most entertaining, heart-breaking and at times comical, imaginative, poetic, melancholic, endearing, touching and captivating. If you haven’t tried the dish, you should, because it surely is delicious!

PS: I have not given details on the story or the other characters in order not spoil it for those who haven’t already seen it and wish to do so.



O.T.: Poulet aux prunesProduction: Celluloid Dreams, The Manipulators, UFilm, Studio 37, Le Pacte, Lorette Production, Film(s), Arte France Cinéma, ZDF/Arte, Cinémage 5, UFund, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Deutsche FilmFörderfonds (DFFF), Canal+, CinéCinéma, Le TaxShelter du Gouvernement Fédéral de Belgique. Executive producers: Jeremy Burdek, François-Xavier Decraene, Nadia Khamlichi. Producer: Hengameh Panahi. Co-producers: Rémi Burah, Christoph Fisser, Henning Molfenter, Adrian Politowski, Gilles Waterkeyn and Charlie Woebcken. Assistant producer: François-Xavier Decraene. Line producer: Jasmin Torbati. Director: Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. Screenplay: Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. Photography: Christophe Beaucarne. Music: Olivier Bernet. Production design: Udo Kramer. Costume design: Madeline Fontaine. Editing: Stéphane Roche.

 Cast: Mathieu Amalric (Nasser-Ali Khan), Édouard Baer (Azraël), Maria de Medeiros (Faringuisse), Golshifteh Farahani (Irâne), Eric Caravaca (Abdi), Chiara Mastroianni (Lili- adult), Mathis Bour (Cyrus), Enna Balland (Lili), Didier Flamand (the music teacher), Serge Avedikian (Irâne’s father), Rona Hartner (Soudabeh), Jamel Debbouze (Houshang/beggar), Isabella Rossellini (Parvine), Frédéric Saurel (Mirza), Christian Friedel (Cyrus, 22 years old), Thimoté Riquet (young Nasser-Ali).

 Color – 90 min. Premiere: 3-IX-2011 (Venice International Film Festival).

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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