Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Chicken with Plums (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Chicken with Plums
Marjane Satrapi, who wrote and directed the visually entrancing "Persepolis" (2010) from her own graphic novel, now has a live action story "Chicken with Plums" co-directed by Vincent Paronnaud. 

This story concerns a one time virtuosic violinist, Nasseer-Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric)  and his yearning for a lost love, Irane (Golshifteh Farahani) as symbolized by his Stradivarius. The story is beautifully rendered in a quasi-calligraphic painterly fashion. Although "Chicken with Plums" is mainly  composed with live actors, the action is interspersed with animated scenes that are threaded seamlessly throughout the film, giving the effect of an Indian Painting in the Rajput style with its saturated washes of deep blues and florid oranges with all of the landscape aswirl in starlike swoops and curling crescents.
We meet the bereft Nasseer who is forced to walk into a dark Underworld to find a replacement for his smashed violin. His search is as elusive and vexing as a gumshoe's search for a slinky Femme Fatale. He descends into the bowels of a dusty antique shop and is immediately accosted by the smoky purveyor Houshang (Jemel Doubbouze), a genie of sorts. Nasseer attempts to find an equal to his musical love.
But nothing works.
He faces the wall of his apartment for months: pale, sickly and anemic, without the flavor of life. One might think here of Franz Liszt, and his tortured love for Caroline de Saint-Cricq, but for the most part Nasseer recalls Monsieur Hulot in his shyness, Chaplin or Salvador Dali.  The sycophantic Faringuisse,  his wife, (Maria de Madeiros) tries to appease him, but to no avail.
Throughout the film, Nasseer goes on a psychological journey though his memories and desires which visually borrow many eclectic sources from F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu" to Herge's Tin-Tin with its yellow ambers and its apple-cheeked children. And, in one scene, as Irane and Nasseer are at movie house in Tehran, circa 1950, there is even a nod to Tim Burton: their pale and transfixed faces are watching "The Phantom of the Opera" with Lon Chaney.  Director Satrapi's visual catalogue is comprehensive and startling and she seldom disappoints.
The scenes with The Angel of Death (Edouard Baer) in particular, are splendidly drawn and haunting with the wonder and care of a cinematic Gustave Dore. The Angel is a Cimmerian bird of night---only the eyes and teeth are visible which flutter in sarcasm. The face is a sable curtain topped with horns and transported by the huge wings of a vulture. Not since Tim Curry as Lucifer have I seen such a half-comic and visceral incarnation of Darkness.
The film's one singular stumble is a silly dream-like interpretation of a 1990s Americanized Tehran. The family is loud, garish and fat. The one daughter is pregnant, she assumes, from eating too much pizza while the kids dance idiotically to hip-hop. 
Okay, I get it. The ugly Suburban Family, overloud, obese and hypnotized by TV. But the commentary on these stereotypes are right out of Roald Dahl's  Willy Wonka and just not that funny these days.
Overall though, "Chicken with Plums" is a rich picaresque film that is almost musical in its painstaking intricacy and illuminated detail. From the florid vegetation to the monolithic gray of a cemetery and last but not least, the wilted bohemian melancholy of Nasseer's film-noir fedora which dances in time to his sideways gait, this film is a genuine transport that rivals the Baroque manner of Terry Gilliam or the spacey geometry of Ridley Scott.
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