SFIFF: Chicken with Plums (2011)

In one of the film’s key and poignant scenes, a dying woman has her last cigarette on her deathbed. She takes a long, luxurious drag and exhales a dense plume of smoke – the smoke escapes through the window and travels across the city of Tehran. Cut: to her grave, where the ball of smoke floats over it. This very short scene, a mix of live action and animation, typifies the film’s playfulness and formal intent. In its brevity we are given to understand immediately that the force of her character lives on – literally outside her grave. This, and all the other key scenes, are delivered without sentiment but with a great deal of passion.

Form and function are beautifully woven together in this film – it is a lovely example of the ways in which you cannot tell where the story ends and the medium begins. Filmmakers Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, in seamlessly weaving together live action, animation, puppetry, and old-fashioned storytelling, also collapse time, space, love and emotion into one frame. A plume of smoke from the distant future turns into a scarf from the near future. A man on his deathbed in Tehran follows the Angel of Death to Jerusalem and India via the opening of a storybook. Lost love past and current love meet through a collapsing of space and time. Even the road from life to death is not linear – it is a series of vignettes which moves through form, person, space, and future stories told like flashbacks.

This film is a reminder of how liberating a medium cinema can be. It can move in any temporal direction and engage a myriad of formal elements but remain cohesive, universal, and entertaining.

With an astonishing assemblage of beautiful actresses including Golshifteh Farahani, Maria de Medeiros, Chiara Mastrioanni and Isabella Rossellini.

In wide release August 22nd.

Chicken with Plums (Poulet aux Prunes). Dir. by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. Celluloid Dreams, et al., 2011. In French.

From the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, who also wrote and directed Persepolis.