As I seem to belabour in every ‘review’ here, cinema is not merely for the eyes. It is a veritable feast for all senses, and persists long after the final frame is passed; lingering like the scent of saffron in a wafting breeze, and the draught of vintage (“that hath been cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth…”). The second collaboration between Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi is a whimsical and sensuous one, and there is hardly a more richly satisfying and heartfelt film of this year than Poulet aux prunes.

The premise of the film is darkly comic, in a similar vein to the dark whimsy of Jean-Pierre Jeunet – our protagonist Nasser-Ali (played by an endearingly eccentric Mathieu Amalric) loses the will to live and lies in bed for eight days, waiting to die (which he does on the eighth day, but don’t worry! – it’s revealed at the outset). What follows are flashbacks and the eventual chain of events leading to his decision, and the eight days while the wretched man awaits death.

The title of the film alludes to three major themes which present themselves throughout the film – love, death, and pleasure. It is a cinematic homage to Iran, Satrapi’s birthplace, and her love for the country is beautifully woven into the narrative, from the immaculately reconstructed streets of old Tehran in the 1950s, to the mysteriously evocative score featuring the Tar; indeed, even the heroine’s name is Irâne. “Poulet aux prunes” – chicken with plums – is a traditional Iranian culinary dish, and incidentally one of Satrapi’s favourites. Death is a constant reminder in the film, but in a morbidly humorous fashion, as even Azrael himself comes to visit Nasser-Ali. In an attempt to dissuade her husband from his choice, Nasser-Ali’s wife cooks him poulet aux prunes, his favourite dish – he refuses. The dish denotes the profundity of his choice: it was one of his great pleasures in life, and refusing it demarcates the loss of all pleasure in his life. Pleasure takes all forms in this film, whether it be culinary, aesthetic, or romantic, and we experience all of these fully and enticingly, swathe in palettes of deep rust, crimson, and aubergine.

The most distinctive aspect comes from the creatively original genius of Paronnaud and Satrapi, interspersing live-action featuring Amalric, Isabella Rossellini and memorable cameos by Chiara Mastroianni and Jamel Debbouze; and silhouette animation, delightfully reminiscent of Lotte Reiniger and German expressionistic influences. The imaginative possibilities offered by animation are fully seized, lending an enchantingly quirky atmosphere to the film. Moreover, the fantastical elements of the film are balanced perfectly with the emotional truth of the characters, never neglecting characterisation in favour of artistic tricks.

Too few films are at once unique and universal, yet Poulet aux prunes coalesces both into a hearty concoction of cinematic pleasure. It is pure storytelling: part fable, part cautionary tale, half loss/half love, and entirely a film that settles snugly atop your left fourth rib, whispering dreams of violin music and old world cobblestones.

Advertisements