Chicken With Plums
Chicken With Plums 2011
It often happens that I chance upon a movie that I hadn’t heard of before that I feel like I really should have already known about. I was a fan of Marjane Satrapi’s first movie based on her comic of the same name Persepolis. But I didn’t realize that she made a second movie based on another of her graphic novels called Chicken With Plums a few years later in 2011 until very recently. Watching it, it reminded me quite a bit of a black comedy version of Amelie. There are plenty fantasy sequences and flights of fancy mixed into this relationship drama, but there’s a decided lack of whimsy in favor of a more darkly comedic tone.
The main focus of the movie is the relationship drama of the main character Nassir Ali. He was a world class violinist in a strained marriage who has lost the love for his music and decided to die. There are several interesting relationships throughout the movie. We have the argumentative and strained relationship between Nassir and his wife Faringuisse. She is many years younger than Nassir and had a crush on him since she was a young girl, Nassir’s mother basically forced him to marry where they had a mostly loveless marriage but still had two children that Nassir didn’t really want to be a father to. We eventually learn about the real relationship between Nassir and Iran who he met as a young man. They fell in love and were about to be married until her father disapproved of the relationship and forbade them to be together.
The film itself has an overall theme about being too late. After Nassir has decided to allow himself to die, his wife makes a final effort to reconnect with him by making one of his favorite meals, Chicken With Plums, where the film’s title comes from. But when she actually gives him the meal, he doesn’t want it because it’s too little too late. He even goes so far as to tell her that he never loved her, and she responds that she despises him. It’s too late for their marriage. And on the seventh day of his death watch, Death himself Azrael comes to visit Nassir to chat with him. And while it’s not entirely time for Nassir to die just yet, when Nassir admits that he doesn’t really want to die, Azrael tells him that it’s already too late. And of course, the most important moment that really makes this hit home is when Nassir runs into Iran at the beginning of the movie. But we don’t see the importance until we see the rest of the interaction, because from Nassir’s point of view Iran tells him that she doesn’t remember him anymore. But when we finally see Iran’s point of view, it turns out that she really does remember him but she realizes that it’s too late for their relationship to rekindle and it’s better to just cut ties with him completely rather than relive the pain of reconnecting with someone when they could never actually be together again as they have both been married and lived separate lives. And it’s with that pain and realization that ends the movie. There is no happy ending, the movie itself is too late for these characters.
What does liven up the film are the moments of fantasy strewn throughout. After Nassir has a brief moment of connection with his daughter, the narrator which also happens to be Azrael himself fills us in on what happens to her as she grows up to be a film noir persona with dark hair cut into a bob, smoking, drinking, and gambling until she dies from her third heart attack. When Nassir initially decides that he wants to die, we get glimpses of how it would look if he tried different methods of suicide, each of which he decides would either be too painful or too demeaning as a person of his stature. We also get an almost sitcom-esque moment when we see how his youngest son’s life turns out as he moves to America and has a family of his own where they all speak English and their oldest daughter has a stomachache which turns out to be her giving birth to a baby without realizing she was pregnant in the first place. The flights of fancy help to lighten up all the drama and depression, as does some of the other characters early on like the store owner who has a Stradivarius violin for sale, something that Nassir initially thinks could rekindle his love of music, but the owner is a quirky fan who ultimately gives Nassir’s son some opium to calm him down after singing during the entire hours long bus ride to the shop in the first place.
As a drama, the characters are interesting, but it’s difficult to really connect with any of them. It’s not until near the end that we get some real sympathy towards Nassir as someone who had lost the love of his life and was forced to marry someone he didn’t love. But through most of the movie he just resents his wife, doesn’t care or even seem to want his kids, doesn’t work or want to work. He just wants to do nothing and/or play his music and live his life the way he wants to. Faringuisse seemingly loves Nassir but isn’t willing to compromise and merely spends the majority of the movie yelling at him and it the inciting event when she breaks the violin that he got from the master that taught him to play from the heart. It’s something that Nassir will never be able to forgive her for, and he never does. Even Iran doesn’t get away completely unscathed as she accepts the decision of her father without question or argument despite that this takes place in the 20’s where it would have been less acceptable for her to go against her father’s wishes. In terms of a comedy, the humor is generally fairly dry except for a few moments during the fantasy sequences. It’s ultimately a poignant tale of lost romance with some darkly humorous moments lacking in the whimsy that it seems to want to have. There are plenty of moments that are visually striking, but there’s almost always an underlying darkness that takes away from the lighthearted humor it’s intended to have. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.