Chicken With Plums,
directed by Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud
(Sony, 2012)

Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Chicken With Plums was a whimsical and wonderful story that's now a film of the same name. Satrapi co-directs (with Vincent Parannoud) a movie that is true to its source -- in addition to being a lovely little treat of a mixed-media narrative.

Nasser-Ali has only ever had a few moments of happiness in his miserable life. As a young man in 1958 Tehran, he was a genius at paying the violin; however, he was warned by his teacher that his lack of emotional connection to the music kept him from being a true master. When Nasser-Ali falls in love with a beautiful rich young woman named Iran, he makes that connection and his music comes to life. Her overprotective father forbids the relationship to continue. Heartbroken, he tours the world, playing beautifully and perfectly, earning worldwide renown. If he cannot have his love he can at least have the music they shared. In his 40s, he marries at the insistence of his mother, but it is a form of incarceration -- even though his wife is actually in love with him, it's a one-way relationship. After years of suppressing his pain he finally snaps and smashes his priceless Stradivarius. Turning his face to the wall, knowing that his love and his music are gone from his life, he wills himself to die.

This is not actually a spoiler, as the movie opens with Nasser on his deathbed and the narrator announcing that the tale begins with his death. It is a story that begins with resignation and ends with love and hope all combined into a dense, complex-but-understandable embroidery of a tale. The dream-like flashbacks involve meetings with the Angel of Death, actually a rather cheerful entity, and highly stylized shots that make great use of intense colors, poignant music and the occasional animated sequence. The segments, pulsating as they are with color and life (thanks to a combination of modern CGI and old-fashioned staging and lighting), are surrealistically lovely.

It has the appearance of affectedness but that is largely due to the intensity of the collage-like flashbacks and the nesting-doll nature of the narrative. It's well-done, full of humanity and humor, melancholy and complex, the unfolding tragedy nested within a structurally intricate, visually striking scenes. It's surprising, it's sensitive and it's beautiful. Truly one of the best adaptations of graphic novels out there today.

review by
Mary Harvey

25 January 2014

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