An adaptation of the second volume of comic-artist-turned-filmmaker Marjane Satrapi’s graphic-novel trilogy, this fablelike fantasy tells the story of Nasser Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric), a master violinist in mid-20th-century Tehran who refuses to play after his beloved instrument is smashed. Unable to follow through on his suicidal impulses, Nasser decides to waste away in bed, where he ignores the entreaties of his wife (Maria de Medeiros), wishes for the arrival of Death (Edouard Baer), and gets lost in fever-dream flashbacks that piece together a sad tale of lost love, doomed marriage and heartbreak.
Careening through the psyche of a melancholic musician who’s lost the will to live, this follow-up to Satrapi and codirector Vincent Paronnaud’s animated, Oscar-nominated Persepolis is ironically the more fanciful affair. Shot-checking everything from Bollywood and German expressionism to Arabian Nights and magical realism, Chicken is an unqualified triumph in terms of visual invention. But those same eye-popping elements also overwhelm a storyboarded-to-the-hilt film that erratically ricochets between gaggery and grave seriousness, building to an operatic catharsis that’s more redolent of the directors’ insistent preciousness than historical-cultural allegory or personal tragedy. There’s some magic in the grab-bag method, but with all the furious wand-waving, the story itself never gets to cast much of a spell.
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