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'Chicken With Plums' loses its appeal quickly

Posted 5:30pm on Thursday, Sep. 06, 2012

PG-13 (drug content, violent images, sensuality, smoking); 93 min.

Chicken With Plums, the first live-action film of French filmmaker Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), is an agony of bad plotting and whimsical, lifeless scenes. It is the story of a man who, disappointed by life and love, decides to go to bed and die. And the movie does the same -- only it dies a full hour before the finish.

Mathieu Amalric plays Nasser Ali, a violinist. At the start of the film, he is looking for a violin to replace his old one, but he can't find anything that's quite right, and so decides he doesn't want to live anymore. At this point, a voiceover narrator steps in and gives the audience what seems, for a moment, like very good news: We are told that Nasser died eight days later, and so we get ready for a new main character and a new focus.

But no. Oh, no. The movie, instead of moving forward, now goes back in time to render in detail every little thing he did over the course of those eight miserable days. Satrapi and her co-writer director, Vincent Paronnaud, start at Day One, and by the time they get to Day Three, it becomes an open question who will slip into a coma first, the protagonist or the audience.

The movie has considerable appeal in its landscapes and cityscapes -- it's set in Tehran, 1958 -- and in its first moments, when an illustrated rendering of Tehran turns into a quite similar-looking street scene, Chicken With Plums offers a promise it never fulfills.

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-- Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

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