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Originally published Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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'Chicken with Plums': Strings begin to loosen on violinist's life

A movie review of "Chicken With Plums," a dreamy drama about a musician (Mathieu Amalric) who is obsessed with the perfect violin.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Chicken with Plums,' with Mathieu Amalric, Edouard Baer. Written and directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, based on Satrapi's graphic novel. 91 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence, smoking. In French and English, with English subtitles. Seven Gables.

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This dreamy, visually inventive Iranian drama functions on so many levels of reality and obsession that it almost ceases to entertain.

It's the latest and perhaps the most ambitious creation of Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud — who earned an Academy Award nomination for best animated feature for their debut, "Persepolis."

Both films are Iranian fables presented in the style of graphic novels, though "Chicken with Plums" is mostly live action.

The central storyline, about a fanatical musician who ignores his family in pursuit of the perfect violin, is clear enough. So is Mathieu Amalric's meticulous performance as Nasser-Ali Kahn, a violinist who is afflicted with this self-destructive fixation in 1950s Tehran.

Much of "Chicken with Plums" (the title refers to an especially tasty dish) is made up of his memories and feverish reveries, which are wide-ranging indeed. One particularly vivid episode is a docudramalike re-creation of the death of Socrates, presented in a manner that suggests the "You Are There" series from the Golden Age of 1950s television.

More directly personal are suicidal confrontations with family members, friends and a character who is unequivocally labeled Death (Edouard Baer) — though he doesn't look at all like an escapee from "The Seventh Seal" or "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life."

A little levity of the Python persuasion might have helped.

Nasser-Ali is so single-minded that he quickly becomes impossible. He's the sort of genius whose brilliance is supposed to make up for the overwrought lapses of youth. He ignores his wife, throws himself at an unattainable beauty, and does it all with a passion that's more off- putting than soulful. Still, the movie is often something to see.

John Hartl:

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