‘Chicken With Plums’

Lovers meet in film Chicken With PlumsThe film trilogy Marjane Satrapi is delivering to cineastes along with her co-writer/director Vincent Paronnaud is shaping up as a real winner, an aesthetic and audience-pleasing triumph.

Now living in Paris, the Iranian-born artist and filmmaker is basing all three films on her distinctive black-and-white graphic novels about her family. The first film, “Persepolis”(2007), was an animated film, mostly in black and white with color seeping in here and there.

“Persepolis” was clearly political and certainly annoyed the religious tyrants in Teheran. It presented the story of a rebellious young feminist (an avatar for Satrapi herself) caught up in war and revolution between 1974 and 1994. With forays into polemics and cultural clashes, the film captured the heightened emotions of a woman finding it hard to fit in with alien values at home and in the West.

The second film has now arrived. “Chicken With Plums” is not an animated film although animation crops up throughout. Rather its story takes place in an imaged 1958 Teheran that flirts with magical realism and German Expressionism.

Marjane Satrapi sends characters into a future USAThus, the new film escapes the world of politics and history for a lovely, melancholy tale about the brother of Satrapi’s grandfather, a world-class musician broken — in her re-imagining anyway — by love. The story moves around in time with flashbacks and even flashforwards to trace the origins of his magical talent with a violin.

Nasser Ali Khan (that soulful French actor Mathieu Amalric) takes to his death bed when he can find no suitable instrument to replace his beloved violin broken by his wife during an argument.

As he awaits the angel of death, he indulges in reveries about his past — his musical instruction, loveless marriage to teacher Faranguiss (Maria de Medeiros) to please his mother (Isabelle Rossellini) and the two small children he neglects.

While his musical techniques cannot be faulted, his teacher hears no emotions in his playing. Only when he experiences heartbreak does he become truly great. This happens when he meets the beautiful Iran (Golshifteh Farahani), a woman named metaphorically after the nation.

Chicken With Plums star Mathieu Amalric contemplates lifeEven the angel of death (Edward Baer), a figure in a great black cape with white white teeth, shows up by his bedside to see why this man has been calling to him for a week. He permits Nasser Ali a peak into the future and the less-than-happy fates of his children.

Nasser Ali is a first-class egoist, make no mistake. He savors his heartbreak as one would a fine wine and thinks of little but himself. But his greatness and his willingness to die when he can no longer realize his art to its fullest potential make him a memorable figure. Without pressing the point too heavily his is a figure that speaks to the tragedy of post-revolutionary Iran.

Mixing an international cast in an amusing and imaginary Tehran recreated in Germany’s Studio Babelsberg, the two directors evoke a past of the memory, of iconic characters and emotions writ large. Thus, “Chicken With Plums” is more of a fantasy than the animated “Persepolis,” which at times bordered on agit-prop.

The final edition, “The Eleventh Laureate,” will focus on the family between 1900 and 1960. Can’t wait.

Opens: August 17 New York; August 31 in Los Angeles (Sony Pictures Classics)
Production companies: Celluloid Dreams in association with The Manipulators, uFilm, Studio 37, Le Pacte, Lorette Productions, Film(s), Arte France Cinema, ZDF-Arte
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Edouard Baer, Maria De Medeiros, Golshifteh Farahani, Eric Caravaca, Chiara Mastroianni, Isabella Rossellini, Jamel Debbouze
Directors: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud
Screenwriters: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud
Based on the graphic novel by: Marjane Satrapi
Producer: Hengameh Panahi
Executive producer: Francois-Xavier Decraene
Director of photography: Christophe Beaucarne
Production designer: Udo Kramer
Music: Olivier Bernet
Costumes: Madeleine Fontaine
Editor: Stephane Roche
PG-13 rating, 91 minutes.