(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a mournful elegy about the physical rather than the abstract. Thus, I focused on the everyday grief that doesn’t always make itself visible.)
I grieve every day but don’t show it.
None see it, of course, but I do.
No moistened eyelashes,
No sackcloth and ashes,
It’s deeper and yet no less true.
I grieve in the taste of the chicken
That never tastes quite like it did
When Mother would heighten
My senses and brighten
My day with the lift of a lid.
I grieve at the sound of the classics,
The ones that my father proclaimed
Were better by far
Than the modern songs are,
To which I agreed or was shamed.
I grieve at the touch of an afghan,
Hand-knitted with love in each thread.
Its knots and defects
Made the knitter perplexed,
But now they are precious instead.
I grieve where the world in its hurry
Has left things of value behind.
Don’t doubt I’m sincere
If I don’t shed a tear;
They moisten my heart and my mind.
MPAA rating: PG-13
It was three years ago this very month that I reviewed Marjane Satrapi’s animated drama Persepolis as part of NaPoWriMo. That film was such a refreshingly unique experience that I knew I had to check out her next film, which, like Persepolis, was also based off her own graphic novel. Chicken with Plums may not be animated, but its similarity of style is equally praiseworthy, just on a far less consistent level than its predecessor.
Told in French and set in 1950s Iran, Chicken with Plums is the story of a man who decides to die. After his critical wife (Maria de Medeiros) smashes his beloved violin, the famed concert pianist Nasser-Ali (Mathieu Amalric) loses his will to live, lying in bed awaiting death and dreaming of the past and future. The narrative is far from linear, interspersed with subjective thoughts of how his children will grow up, memories of his success, and bizarre fantasies (hugging a giant pair of breasts, for example). It’s a weird mix as the tone swings wildly from obnoxious slapstick to pensive reminiscences, and not all of it works.
However, what does work is outstanding, at least on a visual level. The settings and overall aesthetic have the dated, magical aura of yesteryear, with a carefully crafted artistry that I could compare to that of Wes Anderson if he had half the idiosyncrasies. Satrapi’s vision of 1950s Iran oddly has the look and feel of Europe, reminding us how western-leaning the nation was before the Revolution, as detailed in Persepolis. And the acting is certainly on point, with Amalric of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly fame once more proving his thespian skill.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Chicken with Plums up until the ending, where the story takes a sublimely bittersweet turn that is crushing in its emotional resonance. It’s a rare and beautiful melancholy replete with the story’s themes of music, heartache, and loss; it may not quite fit with many parts of the film but still ended it on a high note of poignancy.
Best line: (Nasser-Ali’s music teacher, speaking of his initial music) “Sounds come out. But it is empty. It is barren. It is nothing. Life is a breath; life is a sigh. It is this sigh that you must seize.”
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2019 S.G. Liput
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