Chicken with Plums

Directed By: Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud

Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Edouard Baer, Maria de Medeiros, Golshifteh Farahani, Eric Caravaca, and Chiara Mastroianni

A title can sometimes tell you everything about a movie long before you see it or absolutely nothing at all.  Of all the movie titles I've encountered over the years, I have to say Chicken with Plums might just be the most enigmatic I've ever heard.  When I first learned of this movie, my initial thought was "What the hell is it about?".  That title didn't tell me a damn thing about the film. After having seen the movie, however, I can say that Chicken with Plums is a title that says everything about the movie.

There was someone.  Then, there was no one.  Acclaimed violinist Nasser Ali (Mathieu Amalric) loves nothing more than to sit down and play the lovely instrument bestowed upon him by his former instructor.  With it, he takes the breath and the sigh of the wind to make some of the most beautiful music of his time.  The music represents his long lost love.  With this in mind, his enchantment with his violin leads to his disenchantment with his wife Faranguisse (Maria de Medeiros) and his children (Enna Balland and Mathis Bour).

Nasser Ali's lack of affection for his own family leads to a huge fight with Faranguisse.  In the end, she slams his violin to the ground and destroys it in the process.  Crushed by this, Nasser Ali has nothing more in this world that matters to him and resolves himself to die.  He wants an elegant death though, so he's not going to take any of the classic or traditional approaches to the painless suicide.  He's just going to get in bed and wait to die.  He actually does so in eight days.  Chicken with Plums is about his journey during these final days.  Over the course of these eight days, Nasser Ali meets Azraël (Edouard Baer), the Angel of Death, learns of the power of prayer, and reflects on his one true love Iran (Golshifteh Farahani).

Chicken with Plums is undoubtedly one of the most creative and aesthetic flicks I have seen this year.  With vibrant cinematography, rich music lush with melodic harmonies, and piercing performances from the cast, directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud have really put together something outstanding in this film.  It's a strangely beautiful movie that embraces love and death in a uniquely amoral way.

The visuals in this film are utterly amazing.  One moment, Satrapi and Paronnaud could have us in the 1950s.  The next, we could be in a happy past or an unhappy future.  Regardless of the time and place, each setting is marked by strikingly colorful sets and scenery that serve as an ode to the past.  In addition to creative visuals, Satrapi and Paronnaud give us some outstanding music.  Given that Nasser Ali is supposed to be the premier violinist of his time, this is expected to a degree.  However, some of the music is just so enchanting and so rich that it sweeps you out of time, space, and perhaps even the movie theater for a brief moment of heaven.

The cast does an excellent job as well.  Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace, Munich) is surprisingly charming as suicidal violinist Nasser Ali.  I can't help but identify and empathize with his situation.  He's married to a woman he doesn't love, and his one true love doesn't recognize him anymore.  Without his violin, there is no more love in his life.  He has nothing more to live for, and Amalric brings this despondence to the forefront quite well.  At the same time, I can understand his desire for an elegant death.  He wants to look good when he dies.

Among the supporting cast, Maria de Medeiros and Edouard Baer are the standouts.  As Faranguisse, there are many layers to de Medeiros's performance.  She can be a tough battle ax who nags all day long.  At the same time, she can be the fool who’s desperately in love with a man who doesn't love her.  Taking on both these facets of her character and everything in between, Maria de Medeiros really gives an impressive performance.  As Azraël, Edouard Baer is definitely the most hilarious person in the movie.  Baer's Angel of Death is just a chill dude trying to do his job.  He might pull a few pranks or have a cigarette along the way, but he's just the guy with a job nobody likes.  Baer is pretty witty too in his performance, which adds some additional flavor to his already lovable Azraël.

I'm sure it's no surprise that Chicken with Plums gets a sober rating.  It's a really outstanding film that satisfies on every level.  It's as visually pleasing as Moonrise Kingdom and as touching as The Intouchables.  This is the sort of film that gives me hope for filmmaking.  You won't need a drop of liquor for this one.