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Chicken With Plums

Graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi moved into film successfully a few years ago with Persepolis, an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature. Chicken with Plums, for which she once again collaborates with the French filmmaker Vincent Paronnaud, is a live-action film that seems different in every way: The simple line drawings are replaced with live action that is colorful and whimsically inventive. That this is also a story based on her family may deepen the appreciation of those viewers who have seen Persepolis, but it is by no means necessary: In its own right, it’s one of the best films of the year.

The story takes place primarily in Tehran of the late 1950s, but put aside any notions of the grey metropolis you may have seen in modern footage. Chicken with Plums was shot on soundstages (in Berlin, not that it matters) and conjures up a world of little shops and comfortable city life.

Mathieu Amalric, who was James Bond’s antagonist in Quantum of Solace, stars as Nasser-Ali Khan, a talented violinist. In middle age he seems to have no enjoyment of life, and barely tolerates his wife (Maria de Medeiros, who was Bruce Willis’s girlfriend in Pulp Fiction). When his violin is broken beyond repair and he realizes that he will never be able to replace it, he decides to die and takes to his bed.

The bulk of the film follows the eight days it takes until he expires, but don’t think this is a grim movie. For one thing, it’s narrated by the Angel of Death, who has a sly sense of humor, taking us into both the past and future (where we see Nasser-Ali’s son grown to adulthood and living in what looks like a terrible American sitcom). It is in the past that we discover the key to the bitter man that Nasser-Ali has become, leading to a moving finale that seems a world away from the film’s beginnings.

Satrapi and Paronnaud indulge their love of classic cinema n many ways, more perhaps than may be good for a single film or for audiences who don’t like being distracted from the story at hand. I was carried along with its whimsical nostalgia, a characteristic it shares with last year’s hits The Artist and Hugo. It’s a film that requires a little patience, but it’s well worth the effort.

Watch the trailer for Chicken and Plums

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