Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 28, 2011 6:08 am 
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Sweet nostalgic gloom

Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, whose animated film of the autobiographical graphic novel about a girl growing up in a leftist family in Iran was such a success, are back now with a different treatment. This time another graphic novel, Poulet aux prunes/Chicken with Plums, has been storyboarded and turned into a film with live people. The stellar cast includes Matthieu Amalric and Maria de Madeiros in lead roles, with Edouard Baer, Isabella Rossellini, Chiara Mastroianni and others as backup, including the popular Djamel Debbouze in a couple of colorful turns. Beautiful Iranian star Golshifteh Farahani plays the almost wordless part of the lost one true love of the fine violinist Nasser Ali (Matthieu), the protagonist of this film set in a nostalgic 20's-50's Iran with dialogue entirely in French. The Paranoud-Satrapi team has scored again: this is a perfect little tale whose narrative dreamily slips back and forth between past and present, narrated by the Angel of Death (Baer) after This is a cheerful, pretty tale of utter disappointment and suicide. Well, that's how it seems. The versatile Amalric looks soulfully sad throughout as he goes through his disappointments and moments of hope. Don't think the tale is meant to be taken quite seriously. It's more than anything a wistful playing about with romantic dreams.

The story begins with the ultimate cause of Nasser Ali's death wish. His long suffering wife Faranguisse (de Medeiros), who has loved him from chlidhood but whom he has never loved, becomes fed up with his indifferance as a father to their two small children and smashes his violin. He goes looking for a replacement with unsuccessful results, then settles on suicide as the best solution, though various methods, playfully visualized, all seem unsuitable. Running into a sad but lovely older woman who claims not to recoognize him (Golshifteh Farahani) is what brings on the big depression. He takes to his bed and memories sweep over him. Flashbacks show how in his younger days he was told by his violin master that his playing had great technique but no soul. Then he falls in love with a clock seller's daughter (Farahani, young and charming) -- and she with him. But her father refuses to allow the marriage. This makes Nasser Ali so sad, his playing becomes soulful, is certified by his music guru, and he travels the world giving concerts.

The nostalgic picture of the western-leaning middle class of Fifties Teheran was lovingly recreated in idealized form at Berlin's Babelsberg studios. No realistic Savak prisons or other recollections of the earlier autobiographical tale: the pain is all self-inflicted and dreamy. Some details, such as a flashforward to son Cyrus' comical future life in America (with a daughter so fat she doesnn't know she's pregnant), seem choppy, a quality that follows from the blending together into a 93-minute continuous film of a lot of separately constructed graphic novel episodes. This was true of Persepolis too, but the autographical narratige held them together a bit better. This film totally lacks the punch and intellectual bite of the earlier one.

Nonetheless fans of Franco-Iranian nostalgia and droopy romanticism will adore this classic narrative. Others may find the crepuscular world merely dreary and uninvolving/ As a Guardian writer suggested, the "chicken with plums" may "prove too honeyed for some." But no one can deny the craft here, which includes the color, lighting, editing, and Satrapi's direction of her pro cast, not to overlook Enna Balland as young daughter Lili and MAtthis Bour as the uncooperative tyke Cyus, who wants to become a pastry-maker.

The film debuted at Venice and continued at Toronto, Zuich, Hamburg, Sao Paolo, Pusan and Tokyo. It was released in Paris cinemas October 26, 2011. Good reviews (3.5 out of 19 sampled), but some critics felt (as I frankly do) that the sadness comes too easy and with too little pain here.

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