Teheran, 1958. Since his beloved violin was broken, Nasser Ali Khan, one of the most renowned musicians of his day, has lost all taste for ...
Rating: PG-13 for some drug content, violent images, sensuality and smoking
Length: 90 minutes
Released: August 17, 2012 NY/LA
Cast: Isabella Rossellini, Golshifteh Farahani, Maria de Medeiros, Mathieu Amalric, Jamel Debbouze
Director: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Writer: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
LOS ANGELES — Iran-born, Paris-based filmmaker Marjane Satrapi is a force of nature. A fluent English speaker, she's gregarious and easily takes over a room. Her French collaborator, Vincent Paronnaud, is the opposite: low-key, with a wry sense of humor who conducts interviews aided by a translator.
But when it comes to cinema, the esteemed graphic novelists seem to have found a compatible artistic sensibility. Their first feature collaboration, "Persepolis," an expressionistic, hand-drawn, black-and-white animated film, earned the duo an Oscar nomination.
Now, they are turning to live action with "Chicken With Plums," which, like its predecessor, is based on a Satrapi graphic novel.
Rather than the poignant, semi-autobiographical tale of a young woman coming of age in Tehran during the Iranian revolution, "Chicken With Plums," from Sony Pictures Classics, centers on a character ready to end his life. In 1958, violinist Nasser Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric) loses his will to survive after his harpy of a wife breaks his beloved instrument. He takes to his bed for days, waiting for death to arrive, as flashbacks reveal the details of his past.
Satrapi, 42, was inspired to write the graphic novel after seeing a picture of her late great-uncle. "He had a kind of melancholy," she said during a recent interview at a Beverly Hills hotel. "He had a sadness in his eyes. My mother said he was a great musician. He played in his garden and people would stop and listen on the street."
Although Satrapi and her two-time co-director maintain separate publishing careers, the prospect of bringing the sweetly sad story to the screen appealed to Paronnaud.
"There is a kind of an admiration for each other's work," he said in a separate interview. "I am attracted to things that I can't do and is not my style. I am working with her because of the kind of stories that she tells that I wouldn't be able to tell."
The film features an impressive cast, including Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, Maria de Medeiros, Isabella Rossellini, Jamel Debbouze and Chiara Mastroianni, but it's Amalric, who earned rave reviews in Julian Schnabel's 2007 film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," who holds the screen in the lead role.
Satrapi said he was the only actor she considered for the part. "I called him and said, 'You are the only person with these eyes,'" she recalled. "I always had the feeling he had this fever in his eyes, this fever in life. It was very important to create a whole world around this character. This is about the interior life of a man who locks himself in a room and remembers his life."
The highly stylized, soundstage-bound production - shot in Berlin in 2010 at the famed Studio Babelsberg - recalls the florid melodramas of Douglas Sirk, the German emigre who made such lush films in the 1950s as "Magnificent Obsession" and "Written on the Wind," but there are touches of silent Expressionist filmmaking too, and brief animated sequences during the title sequences and flashbacks.
The pair say they aspired to make a movie very much like the set-bound Technicolor Hollywood films of the 1950s, which they both love. "This is kind of an homage to the movies we watched when we were younger," said Paronnaud, 41.
Before starting production on this film, Paronnaud made a short with friends to "understand the technical aspect of shooting."
They both realized it would be difficult for the actors to take direction from two people, Satrapi said, so Paronnaud worked closely with cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne while she focused on the cast.
"But if he makes a framing I don't like, I will tell him - not in front of everyone, of course," she said. "If he doesn't like the way I directed, he will tell me. Sometimes we feel like killing each other, but then we sleep and you forget it."
"Chicken With Plums" premiered last year at the Venice Film Festival, and it has continued to play various stops on the circuit including Toronto, Pusan and Tokyo. Early reviews were largely kind; Roger Ebert described it as a "grand, romantic life story about love, loss, regret and the sadness evoked by a violin."