Directed by: Vincent Paronaud, Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis)
Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Edouard Baer, Maria de Medeiros, Golshitfeh Farahani, Isabella Rossellini
Disabuse yourself of the notion that the title Chicken with Plums tells you anything about Vincent Paronaud and Marjane Satrapi’s 2011 follow-up to their acclaimed Persepolis (2007). This time they made a mostly live-action film with whimsical cartoon-like touches — and some animation — that, for whatever reason, didn’t catch on like their first film. Frankly, I think Chicken with Plums is far and away the better film. I tried to get it booked locally, but I couldn’t generate any interest. (It’s hard to make a case that there’s a compelling reason to book a movie that hadn’t done much business elsewhere — no matter how much you think it would find an audience if handled right.) I’m glad to see someone is introducing it here.
The film is certainly an oddity — but in the best way. It’s hard to describe in terms of genre. It’s sort of a quirky comedy — very playful, very creative and incredibly stylish. But it’s a comedy with a deeply sad center. It is, in fact, one of the most devastatingly sad movies I’ve ever seen — yet this only becomes evident late in the proceedings and is mystifyingly not depressing. The basic story concerns Nasser-Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), a great violinist who loses all interest in living when his violin is destroyed and no replacement that satisfies him can be found. His decision then is to simply lie down and die. It gives away nothing to say that he ultimately succeeds in this attempt, since that’s made clear at the beginning of the film. That death — though it runs through the film — is not what the film is about. Rather, it’s the story that leads up to this decision — a story of love, loss of love, channeling that loss into art, and the inability to ever quite give up that love. It is a film about loss and regret that is somehow sufficiently playful — this is, after all, a movie that’s narrated by the Angel of Death — to never seem like a complete downer. A few of the comedy bits are too obvious, yes, but overall this is a magical film.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Chicken with Plums Friday, Oct. 18, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com
In Brief: Playful, gorgeous to look at, cinematically brilliant and finally heartbreakingly sad, Vincent Paronaud and Marjane Satrapi’s 2011 film is one of those movies that ought to have played here, but didn’t. It’s a kind of fairy tale that tells the story of a great violinist (Mathieu Amalric) who becomes so distraught over the destruction of his violin that he decides to lie down and die. (It’s sort of a live-action follow-up to the directors’ 2007 animated feature, Persepolis.) That he will succeed is evident from the first, but the film is really about what brought him to this conclusion and the great love of his life. A must-see.