Chicken with Plums (Poulet aux prunes) 2.0 stars

Iranian musician Nasser Ali Khan has haunted, buggy eyes, an unruly mustache, a broken heart, a wife he does not love, two children he does not know, and a mysteriously stalled career. But Nasser Ali is a great violinist who believes that art guides us through the darkness of existence, and so all of this might have been bearable but for one thing: his instrument is broken, and he cannot find a worthy replacement. So, after contemplating various methods of suicide (illustrated via a Gorey-tinged gag reel), he takes to his bed to await the arrival of death. Eight days later, death has answered his invitation, and Nasser Ali Khan is buried. What happens in the interim makes up the bulk of this latest film from the team behind 2007's Persepolis, and it amounts to the recollection of a life. It's a gutsy move to place a sour, despairing, even hateful man at the heart of a story and then expect the viewer to play along, even if the surrounding cast is engaging and the vignettes are suitably whimsical-tragical. Happily, the gradual revelation of the connections between those vignettes turns the story of one man's failed life into something broader: a mystery, a whodunit before the deed is actually done. (Also, a whodunit in which everybody plays a part in the doing.) Not everything works, and not every mystery is solved. But enough succeeds to color the meanness with a rosy sort of melancholy, and enough is revealed to tease out a measure of sympathy for the dying. 2011.

Matthew Lickona

This movie is not currently in theaters.

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