Chicken with Plums, an Iranian and French film with English subtitles, is a surprisingly witty comedy-drama with visual flair. Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, the folks who gave us Persepolis, this tale of a moody violinist nursing a broken heart skips melancholy and goes for whimsy, big time.
Beautifully turned-out, this funny tale with a serious subject–suicide–moves quickly and deftly, defying the odds. Our main character (let’s not call him heroic) is a talented, almost totally self-absorbed musician (he’s just bought a Stradivarius) who has been on the cusp of great fame; the scuttlebutt is that he’s a technical wizard but lacks soul, human feeling. Does he change? Well, he undergoes a series of often-hilarious experiences that are supposed to help. But this truly unpredictable movie will surprise you if you try to second-guess it.
This film is structured wittily, moving a few times back and forth in chronology–for real effect. Visually, it’s eccentrically beautiful, with one graphic novel sequence. If you go in cold for this movie, accustomed to the typical “serious” Persian cinema-tale, you might wonder if you should laugh–yes, right from the very start. A light-hearted movie about a middle-aged man considering suicide is occasional, indeed. His misfires at offing himself are, believe it or not, very funny.
His problem, despite having a wife and two personable, bedeviling kids, is still pining over his one-time love, who has disappeared. The broken heart cannot be mended, he thinks, but the lady in question reappears and then spurns him (again). No one can help–not his smart brother, his severe wife, his fair-weather friends.
This is not a traditional movie, French or Iranian: It has satirical sequences needling American ethos (terrific), childcare, Persian bargaining techniques (which prove to be universal). Mostly in Farsi, with some English and French, and shot mostly in three Iranian cities, this surprising movie knows what it’s doing. And when’s the last time you heard of a laugh-out-loud Iranian movie?
While most of Chicken with Plums is excellent, it really unfurls and blossoms in its bittersweet last 30 minutes, when the lost love reappears. Before that, the comic tone, never cheap or self-indulgent, doesn’t waver.
It’s the surprise of the art-house season, and you won’t have to put up with Adam Sandler fans. Farsi usually scares those types off.