It's to be expected that the follow-up film to a widely acclaimed debut will find itself stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. Comic-book artists Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud pretty much embraced that challenge head-on after their animated adaptation of Ms. Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel about growing up in Iran after the Islamic revolution, Persepolis. By moving to live action filmmaking in adapting another of her graphic novels, they did not make things any easier for themselves - and Ms. Satrapi and Mr. Paronnaud come out bruised but having earned our respect, and clearly better, more accomplished filmmakers.

     Chicken with Plums is not in the same league as Persepolis, but neither is it the misfire many reviewers pointed out after its debut in the 2011 Venice competition. It is a wondrously idiosyncratic film whose uneasy balance between whimsy and gravitas is pulled off more often than not, taking more chances in its slim length than most films do and mostly getting away with them. Structured as a multi-layered Persian tale being told to the audience by Azraël (Édouard Baer), the Angel of Death, Chicken with Plums dissects the ties between love, life and art, as the dying musician Nasser Ali (a splendid Mathieu Amalric) looks back on his life and traces the source of his joys and miseries to the love of his life, rhyme and reason of his art. As portrayed by the ever amazing Mr. Amalric, Nasser Ali is an artist lost in a world too harsh for his sensibility, surrounded by well-meaning people who fail to grasp what truly moves him.

     Ms. Satrapi and Mr. Paronnaud handle the telling with aplomb and occasional clumsiness, much helped by Christophe Beaucarne's virtuoso work with colour and Udo Kramer's playful production design, especially in some of the nested tales that peel away further layers of the musician's past (the sitcom flash-forward isn't particularly happy, and the double cameo by Jamel Debbouze is somewhat distracting). But, in many ways, that construction as a nested series of tales actually suggests that the duo are actually essaying a lot more in terms of term and mood in a single film than most directors try in a full career; and the grandiose, superb finale's impassioned romanticism and scope alone cancels out any misfires. Not enough to raise Chicken with Plums to the level of Persepolis, but enough to make it into an admirably honest and risk-taking film.

Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Édouard Baer, Maria de Medeiros, Golshifteh Farahani, Éric Caravaca, Chiara Mastroianni, Jamel Debbouze, Isabella Rossellini

Directors and writers: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud, from the graphic novel Chicken with Plums by Ms. Satrapi
Cinematography: Christophe Beaucarne  (colour, processing by Arri Film & TV Services, widescreen)
Music: Olivier Bernet
Designer: Udo Kramer
Costumes: Madeline Fontaine
Editor: Stéphane Roche
Visual effects: Damien Stumpf
Producer: Hengameh Panahi (Celluloid Dreams Productions in co-production with Themanipulators, uFilm, Studio 37, Le Pacte, ARTE France Cinéma, ZDF/ARTE, Lorette Productions and Film[s])
France/Germany, 2011, 92 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12 (Lisbon), October 10th 2012


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