Writing-directing partners Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi were responsible several years ago for the glorious cartoon "Persepolis." Had their latest creation, "Chicken With Plums," been done in the same way, the natural leavening of animation might have lifted it out of the flat state in which it finds itself. As it is, this highly stylized, often beautiful rumination on life and art and the choices we make just sort of lies there, waiting to expire. You can admire it, pay it compliments, flatter its cinematography and the unusual musical choices made by its creators. And still, it insists on not moving, almost defying you to poke it with a stick. Which likely wouldn't work, either.
Mathieu Amalric, a wonderful French actor who can certainly be effervescent when he chooses, is the doleful Nasser-Ali Khan, a gifted musician whose wife (Maria de Medeiros) breaks his cherished violin during an argument. Unable to satisfactorily replace it, Nasser-Ali takes to his bed, and dies eight days later. A piece of advice: If you are making a movie that asks as much of its audience as "Chicken With Plums," do not announce that the hero is going to be dead in eight days, and then proceed to tell the story of his life. Because the viewer knows how it's going to end.
The performances are good, Amalric is always worth watching, as is the extraordinary Iranian beauty Golshifteh Farahani, who plays the woman out of Nasser-Ali's past (without giving away too much), and around whom the story of his life revolves. Farahani, a star of Iranian cinema, became the first actress for her country to star in a major Hollywood production (Ridley Scott's "Body of Lies") and was subsequently banned from leaving her country. The good news is, she now lives in Paris; the bad news is, she's the only thing that brings "Chicken With Plums" to life.
PLOT Despondent violinist, his irreplaceable instrument destroyed, takes to his bed to die, and relives his past. (In French and English with English subtitles)
BOTTOM LINE Atmospheric, moody and often lovely, but, like its subject, exhibits little reason to live.