Category Archives: List Candidates

LIST CANDIDATE: TEOREMA (1968)

DIRECTED BY: Pier Paolo Pasolini

FEATURING: , Laura Betti, Massimo Girotti, Silvana Mangano, Andrés José Cruz Soublette, Anne Wiazemsky

PLOT: A mysterious guest sleeps with every member of a wealthy household, and when he leaves they come to strange, mostly tragic ends.

Still from Teorema (1968)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Mainly on the strength and reputation of its director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, a seminal figure in the Italian avant-garde scene of the 1960s and 1970s, who nonetheless has only a small handful of films that might qualify for the list of the 366 best weird movies. Teorema, while not his best known movie, may be the the poet-cum-director’s most mysterious parable, and therefore demands consideration.

COMMENTS: Today, it’s hard to imagine the controversy that accompanied the relatively tame Teorema in 1966. The film was given an award by a left-leaning Catholic film board at the Venice Film Festival, then condemned by the Vatican for indecency. Despite containing no nudity or explicit sexual depictions, Teorema was brought up on obscenity charges in Italy. Some of Pasolini’s Communist brethren even criticized the film for its irreverent approach to Marxism and for its apparent religiosity. I imagine what really unnerved people at the time was the bisexuality of dreamy, blue-eyed Brit Terence Stamp, the movie’s mysterious visitor. A homosexual character would have been somewhat shocking in 1968, but a man who fornicates equally with men and women—and whose charms are irresistible to straight men—is far more threatening to sexual mores; it’s even more outrageous when it’s hinted that the pansexual visitor may be God. Teorema is schematic in structure: after a few introductory passages, including a long sequence done silent film-style, the plot settles down to a series of sexual encounters between the magnetic Stamp and the members of the household (mother, father, daughter, son, maid) where he stays as a guest, followed by an examination of their individual breakdowns after he leaves them bereft. Synopses invariably misreport that Stamp “seduces” the household, which is almost the opposite of Pasolini’s scheme here: each of the family members is attracted to the visitor on their own and seeks to seduce him. He initially rejects their advances, but quickly succumbs—he provides sex as an act of charity, or grace. When Stamp leaves, with as little explanation as was given for his arrival, the family falls apart. The pastimes they cling to to try to fill his absence—sex, respectability, money, art, even sanity—are revealed as empty and unsatisfactory. The housekeeper Elena, who retreats to her country village where she eats nettles and performs morose miracles, appears to escape the tragic fate of the others—although her end hardly seems more comforting than the father’s, who winds up naked and raving mad in the desert. What it all means is up for interpretation: despite delivering each plot point on time with mathematical regularity, Pasolini leaves out some essential step from his proof that would lead us to an irrefutable conclusion. I suspect the movie is mostly about the death of God and Pasolini’s notion that, with the decline of Christendom, the bourgeois class would implode from a lack of meaning in their lives. (If Pasolini is to be believed—and surely his tongue was tucked partially in his cheek when he gave this reductionist quote—the film’s message is that “a member of the bourgeoisie, whatever he does, is always wrong).” The snail’s pace and minimum of dialogue make the movie a bit of a chore to watch, and for all his concern with sensuality, Pasolini is no more than average as a visual stylist. True to its name, Teorema (Italian for “theorem”) is a dry theoretical film that’s more interesting to discuss afterwards than it is fun to watch.

Astute 366 readers may note that Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q is basically an inverted (and perverted) version of Teorema.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The sort of moviegoer who thinks all movies must make sense — obvious common sense, that is — should avoid ‘Teorema.’ Those who go anyway will be mystified, confused, perhaps indignant.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “lo-fi jr.,” who called it “the most psychotically Catholic flick I’ve ever seen.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM (1973)

Recommended

Sanatorium Pod Klepsydra; AKA The Hour-glass Sanitorium; The Sandglass

DIRECTOR:

FEATURING: Jan Nowicki, Jozef Kondrat, Irena Orska, Halina Kowalska, Gustaw Holoubek, Ludwik Benoit, Mieczyslaw Voit

Still from The Hourglass Sanitorium (1973)

PLOT: Adapted from several stories by Bruno Schulz, the movie follows Joseph (Nowicki) as he travels by train to a sanitarium to see his dead father. At this particular institution, time is altered, so his father can still be alive within, while in the outside world his death has already occurred; and while waiting for his father’s death to catch up, Joseph appears to go through incidents in his own past, as time curls in on itself.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Surreal and dream-like, this is probably one of the most artistically successful films of its type—a picturesque journey into death.

COMMENTS: Wojciech Jerzy Has’ two best known films are also the only ones readily available to Western audiences, that other film being The Saragossa Manuscript (1965). Both are challenging adaptations of literary works thought to be unfilmable. These two movies alone would make impressive bookends in any filmmaker’s career, yet these were made almost a decade apart, and Has’ other films reportedly retain a similar level of quality.

Sanitorium is visually sumptuous, due to the cinematography of Witold Sobocinski and the production design by Andrzej Plocki and Jerzy Skarzynski. Viewers who are attracted to the visual artistry of  will find much to like and admire here, though the similarity ends there—while Gilliam is no stranger to dark themes in his works, even in the darkest times, he leaves a small light on. Sanitorium doesn’t allow even that minor level of comfort.

The opening image of the film—a silhouette of a bird in mid-air flight, yet seemingly suspended in place–is probably the most potent metaphor for the journey that Joseph takes. Essentially it’s a metaphoric traverse through life to its inevitable end—death—and also an observation of the same journey of an entire culture, in this case the Jews in Europe prior to the start of World War II. While there is no explicit or obvious symbolism present, no swastikas or any mention of the rise of Nazism, the film supports that reading. As Josef goes through various incidents in his childhood, we see the rich life of the community in prosperous times, and as time and decay progresses, so does that community. The last glimpse we see is Joseph witnessing  an exodus of people from town—from what is never specified, although one can surmise, if one knows history.

Sanitorium doesn’t spell itself out for the audience, and that may be the biggest hurdle for viewers, who will either overcome it or throw up their hands in frustration. We go along for the mad journey with Joseph, and the movie makes no concession to the viewer whatsoever. It is the kind of film that yields rewards with multiple viewings, and it probably helps to know Bruno Schulz and something about his work.

Unlike The Saragossa Manuscript, Sanitorium never got an official Region 1 DVD release. The UK DVD company  Mr. Bongo has issued a restored version—“restored” in this context meaning a digital remastering under the supervision of cinematographer Sobocinski. The disc is a Region 0 PAL release, so it should be playable on most computers and some (hacked) DVD/Blu-ray players—check your specs.

Journey to the Underworld – an essay by Steve Mobia with an interpretation of the film, and mention of Has’ other films.

www.schulzian.net – site featuring translations of Schulz’s stories and links.

Wikipedia entry

IMDb entry

LIST CANDIDATE: HOLY MOTORS (2012)

Holy Motors has been promoted to the List! Please check the Holy Motors Certified Weird entry for more information and to comment. This initial review is left here for archival purposes.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Kylie Minogue,

PLOT: “Mr. Oscar” drives around Paris in a limo taking on nine “assignments” which require him to become an accordion player, a hitman, and fashion model-abducting leprechaun, among other personae.

Still from Holy Motors (2012)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Holy Motors is overwrought, pretentious, obscure, scatterbrained, confusing, and self-indulgent—all qualities that typically make for a great work of art. The main knock against it certifying it as one of the 366 Best Weird Movies immediately is that it’s not yet out on DVD—but keep an eye out for it in the near future.

COMMENTS: Leos Carax’ segment in the portmanteau film Tokyo! revolved around a gimpy, gibbering leprechaun dubbed “Merde” (played by Denis Lavant) who arose from the sewers to scandalize the polite people of Japan by eating money and licking schoolgirls on the street. In that movie Merde served as a symbol of Japanese xenophobia, a surreal and satirical rendition of boorish Western invaders as seen through Eastern eyes. Lavant reprises Merde in Holy Motors, but here the character is even more random, limping through a Parisian cemetery eating flowers off of gravesites and abducting a fashion model (Eva Mendes) with the backbone of a rag doll. The idea that an already mysterious and absurd character like Merde would be resurrected and tossed into a situation that’s even further out of context is typical of Holy Motors‘ approach. In between a very weird prologue featuring director Carax as a man living in a secret room behind a cinema where shadowy beasts prowl the aisles, and very weird epilogue featuring chauffeuse Edith Scob and a parking lot full of telepathic limousines, Lavant (presumably) plays ten different roles—nine “assignments” and his base character of “Mr. Oscar.” There are no connections between the parts he is assigned: some, like Merde, are purely absurd, some are musical, and some are legitimately moving human moments. Each segment operates according to its own internal illogic. The roles are arbitrary, like the jobs any working actor would take: this month an action hero, next month a dying benefactor. At times we see, or at least think we see, hints of the “real” person behind Mr. Oscar, but mostly we see him applying his makeup in front of his mobile vanity mirror, preparing to disappear into a new role. It’s never suggested what the purpose of these performances might be, or whom they are for the benefit of, or if they ever end (when Oscar goes home for the night, it appears he is only playing another insane character). Scenes that appear to involve Mr. Oscar as “real” person sometimes turn out to be part of another assignment; if we try to figure out who Oscar really is, we’re continually frustrated. By the end of the long twenty-four hour session Mr. Oscar looks weary, sad and resigned; but he must wake up in the morning and do it all over again. It’s a bravura suite of performances by Lavant, who is appointed to capture the whole strange and tragic spectrum of human activity in a single day. In Carax’ eyes this spectrum involves motion-capture sex scenes, accordion intermissions, and mixed human-chimpanzee marriages. Prepare to be perplexed. You won’t, however, be bored.

Carax assembled a fascinating cast for his first feature film in over a decade. Gnarly faced Lavant, who has appeared in all of the director’s previous films as well as gracing weird works by  and , was the obvious choice for the lead in the most ambitiously odd art film of the French calendar. The casting of Scob and Piccoli, who between them have worked with all of the great European Surrealist filmmakers of the past, from to to Buñuel, is an equally obvious nod to Carax’ influences, one that positions Motors as the latest link in a long cinematic chain. Australian popstress Kylie Minogue immediately scores unexpected cool points by appearing in this project, while glamour girl Eva Mendes follows up her role in ‘s Bad Lieutenant with this even weirder part. We definitely approve of the way her career is headed (even though her recent choices probably make her agent tear his hair out).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…weird and wonderful, rich and strange – barking mad, in fact. It is wayward, kaleidoscopic, black comic and bizarre; there is in it a batsqueak of genius, dishevelment and derangement; it is captivating and compelling.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Dwarf Oscar,” who said it was “weird, weird, weird. You already guessed, I know that, but right now I’m making it official. For once, I’m pretty confident it’s going to make its way to the List…” . Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: BATHORY (2008)

AKA Bathory: Countess of Blood

DIRECTED BY:  Juraj Jakubisk

FEATURING: , Karel Roden, Vincent Regan, Hans Matheson, Deana Horváthová,

PLOT:  Fictionalized chronicle of the life, loves, and political struggles of the infamous 17th century Hungarian countess.


WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Clashing cross-genre elements and facts interposed with fiction and fantasy create an oddball portrait of an already bizarre historical figure and her horrific crimes. If not tedious, the end effect is certainly weird.

COMMENTS: Bathory is a dreamy, odd mix of historical fact, fiction, speculation, and whimsy surrounding the life of notorious sexual serial murderess, Hungarian Countess Erzsébet Báthory de Ecsed (1560 – 1614).

At 141 minutes running time, this cut of the film is condensed from a three part TV miniseries. It’s a Slovakian film produced in the Czech Republic about Hungarian history, with British actors, and the mixed production values, uneven tone and ambiguous, confusing story make for an unusual, entertaining, but disjointed viewing experience. The sets and costumes are colorful and imaginative, yet in places smack of a television budget.

Relying heavily on speculation and fancy, Bathory‘s plot combines elements of mystery, thriller, historical drama, and Renaissance steampunk adventure. Part of the movie focuses on the Countess’s personal life, her youth, her marriage to a Hapsburg dynasty heir, and fictionalized romance with painter Merisi Caravaggio (who in real life, never traveled to Northern Hungary.) The story also surveys the politics of Bathory’s dynasty, the Hapsburg empire, their battles with the Turks, and the interplay of power posturings between Bathory and her Hapsburg in-laws. This comprehensive coverage is fine for a TV miniseries, but becomes tedious and complicated in a feature-length movie, especially given the film’s sojourn into fiction.

While some of the political and historical plot points in the film are accurate, others are not, and the remainder of the picture features a murky, often conflicted depiction of Countess Bathory which attempts alternate explanations for the gruesome legends about her. This aspect of the movie is deliberately ambiguous.

Bodies of mutilated teenage girls indeed pile up, girls are found captive in the dungeons of Csejte Castle, and Bathory is seen murdering a couple of servants. Conversely, it is indicated that conspirators drugged the Countess with hallucinogenic mushrooms, and her Gypsy mystic soothsayer, a secret Hapsburg confederate, had Elizabeth so brainwashed with suspicious medicinal potions and metaphysical mumbo-jumbo that Bathory had no clear conception of reality. In other words, the filmmakers seem to be saying of her dreadful transgressions, “it wasn’t her fault.”

Bathory’s infamous bath of blood (drawn from her victims) turns out to be an innocent aquatic suspension of scarlet herbs. Or was the herb bath just a decoy to fool spies? The film hedges as if the producers are too timid to take a firm stance, yet they raise the question of whether long established historical facts are in actuality nothing more than trumped-up charges.

The Hapsburgs are depicted as doing their best to blame a string of mutilation killings on Bathory for political reasons, while fostering exaggerated Continue reading CAPSULE: BATHORY (2008)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: THE DOUBLE HOUR (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Giuseppe Capotondi

FEATURING: Ksenia Rappoport, Filippo Timi, Antonia Truppo, Gaetano Bruno, Fausto Russo Alesi

PLOT: After surviving a gunshot wound to the head, a woman is haunted by apparitions of the dead and visions from what seem to be an alternate, but parallel version of her life.



WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The Double Hour keeps us guessing as to whether we are watching a supernatural chiller or a psychological thriller as it shifts from reality to fantasy and back again. The technique is disorienting, but effective for presenting the story in a creative, unconventional way, and produces a viewing experience that is at times slightly surreal, and definitely perplexing and weird.

COMMENTS: Wow! Guiseppe Capotondi’s stylish, haunting mystery, wrought with paradoxes and disturbing plot twists, really kept me guessing and thinking. The heroine’s perplexing afflictions are in some way personally relevant to her, but instead of clarifying what has happened, they further darken the murky conundrum into which she inexorably spirals in this smoldering, claustrophobic thriller. Capotondi cleverly wields suspense and uncertainty so as to merge the lead character’s unfolding impressions with our viewing experience so that I found myself drawn into her to nightmare as if it were my own.

Strong performances glue The Double Hour‘s convoluted, anomalous elements together into a cohesive, atmospheric mystery. Stars Filippo Timi and Ksenia Rappoport won 2009 Venice Film Festival awards for their roles. Armchair sleuths will find themselves put to the test to try to untangle a twisty path of clues in The Double Hour. With a finale similar to The Butterfly Effect II, everything comes together in the end with no red herrings, but even the most intrepid brainteaser trailblazer will have to lift the double bill of his deerstalker cap to scratch his brow in consternation after the 20 minute mark.

The Double Hour takes it’s name from those times during the day when the numerals designating hour and minutes match. Such as 10:10, or on a 24 hour clock, 22:22. In The Double Hour, these instances hold a special significance: it’s rumored one can wish on them and the wish will come true. They seem to figure prominently in Sonia’s (Rappoport) life, coinciding with strategic events.

Sonia is a chambermaid working in an upscale hotel. She is hounded by bizarre occurrences. After a hotel guest in a room assigned to Sonia leaps off her balcony, the maid takes up a romance with Guido (Timi), a guard at a wealthy absentee land owner’s estate. While visiting her boyfriend, professional criminals raid the manor, holding Guido and Sonia hostage while they loot the mansion of art treasures. Events run awry when Guido tries to protect Sonia. A shot is fired, and everything goes black. It’s unclear what happened.

This is where The Double Hour, already a romance and now a crime caper, completely departs from what the viewer is expecting and plunges into the realm of the eerie and bizarre. The film takes up with Sonia back at work at the hotel as if nothing has happened, but clearly her world is sliding off its axis. Sonia’s life shifts back and forth between light and dark, with a maddeningly indiscernible, sickeningly deliberate design. Phantasmal apparitions and unnerving coincidences begin to gaslight the moments of her day, appearing at those times marked by double digits on the clock.

Disquieted again and again by contact from the other side, Sonia questions her interpretation of reality. How far can we trust our senses to tell us what is real? At what point does subjective experience part from objective truth? Like a Gordian tangle of thread unraveling from some bedeviled funeral shroud, Sonia’s effort to decipher her burgeoning enigma is predicated by a series of uncanny twists and turns, each successive development hurtling all that has preceded it into uncertainty.

As Sonia drifts through a limbo, The Double Hour deftly, seamlessly crosses multiple genre boundaries, from mystery, to horror, to thriller, keeping us off balance and agitated. Just as we begin to draw conclusions, the storyline bends and splits yet again down another unexpected course.

Do our lives co-exist on parallel planes, where mere chance causes outcomes to diverge into differing pathways? If we could wish to reverse tragedies, could things ever really be the way they were knowing what we know now? Be careful what you wish for. We can only watch powerlessly as Sonia discovers whether or not destiny compels those alternate pathways to converge with an eerily vexing prearrangement upon the manifestation of The Double Hour.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A love story wrapped in a way-twisty thriller, this Italian film was made to mess with our heads.”–Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)

 

LIST CANDIDATE: DJANGO KILL… IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! (1967)

Django Kill has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies ever made. Please read the official Certified Weird entry and make any comments there. Comments are closed on this post.

Se Sei Vivo Spara

DIRECTED BY: Giulio Questi

FEATURING: Tomas Milian

PLOT: A bandit is betrayed and left for dead by his comrades, then rides into a strange and corrupt town looking for vengeance and the stolen gold.

Still from Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1967)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: An ambiguously dead antihero who shoots golden bullets fights Mr. Sorrow and his gang of gay fascist cowboys. How could we not at least consider it for a spot as one of the weirdest movies of all time?

COMMENTS: Django Kill (which has nothing to do with Django—American distributors tacked on the name of Franco Nero’s popular cowboy in hopes of selling more tickets) is one of the first movies to recognize the hallucinogenic properties of the overripe oater. Flirting with surrealism while laying on the stage blood in ludicrous quantities, Giulio Questi’s bizarre 1967 western must have set off light bulbs inside Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s skull. The plot, involving a protagonist who is rescued from death by Indian spirit guides, also appears to have at least subliminally inspired Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 Dead Man. Although most of the shocking content—a man being scalped, an (offscreen) homosexual gang rape, and quick-flash subliminal editing techniques designed to induce seizure in epileptics—seems dated or tame today, in 1967 Django Kill was a real sizzler. Italian authorities banned the movie until certain (now-restored) scenes, such as a gang of townspeople’s flesh-ripping treasure hunt for golden bullets suspected to be lodged inside a fresh corpse, were excised. Even though Kill‘s violence no longer carries the same visceral impact it did in the late 60s, it’s still a lot of bloody fun; at times, it’s like watching running loose on a Sergio Leone set. One of the surprising things about Django Kill is that, despite all of the bizarre touches Questi adds, it’s accessible enough to work as a satisfying exploitation western, albeit with a supernatural tinge to it. With his hazel eyes gleaming above his scrub-brush cheeks, Cuban-born Thomas Milian makes for an attractive, ethnically ambiguous antihero (he’s supposed to be a half-breed) who needs to do little more than act cool and aloof to make his presence felt onscreen. The admittedly meandering plot hits all the genre highlights: shootouts, stolen gold, cruel villains, hangings, saloon fistfights, God-forsaken desert landscapes, betrayal, revenge, and closeups of grizzled macho faces aplenty. The strangeness comes in small doses, giving the weirdophiles in the audience secret thrills without alienating the drive-in/grindhouse patrons. Other than the gold bullets, the first fifteen minutes are played almost totally straight. When a gang of desperadoes roll into a nameless town, things start to take on a strange tinge: naked children stand calmly watching their progress through the dusty main street, while other kids are being used as footstools. Figures are briefly glimpsed in windows and there seems to be something unspeakably depraved happening behind every door. As we progress through the movie these quirks multiply, from the villain improbably named “Mr. Sorrow” and his gang of black-clad “muchachos” to a mock-crucifixion scene featuring vampire bats to an alcoholic parrot. The subtext appears to be that Milian, known only as the Stranger, is dead and is wandering through a bandito’s vision of Hell; or, perhaps the Stranger is a Christ figure, redeeming the debauched town through his suffering. The answer is probably both, and neither, of the above; Questi keeps the existential implications of the tale as wide open as the dome over a Montana prairie. To modern eyes Django Kill isn’t the weirdest of the acid Westerns, but it was a pioneer among crazed cowboy pics, and its mixture of unabashed exploitation, arty surrealism and psychedelic editing makes it a cult item par excellence.

Giulio Questi had a short but extremely curious feature film between 1967 and 1972 before being exiled to TV movies. Starting with Django Kill, he made three films in three different b-movie genres—a Spaghetti Western, a giallo (Death Laid an Egg), and a horror film (Arcana)—each co-written with his editor, Franco Arcalli, and each informed by the aesthetics of surrealism. This is the most widely seen of the trio, but it’s far from the weirdest. Blue Underground put out a Django Kill Blu-ray in 2012, while Questi’s other films remain yet unreleased in Region 1.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…determinedly weird… [a] savage and surreal smorgasbord for cult-film aficionados.”–Bud Wilkins, Slant Magazine (Blu-ray)

(This movie was nominated for review by The Awful Dr. Orloff, who called it “the most insanely violent spaghetti western of them all.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: CHICKEN WITH PLUMS [POULET AUX PRUNES] (2011)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi

FEATURING: , , Edouard Baer, Golshifteh Farahani, 

PLOT: A master musician loses the will to live after his prized violin is destroyed, and retires to his deathbed where his story is told through flashbacks mingled with fantasy sequences.

Still from Chicken with Plums [Poulet aux Prunes] (2011)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s a movie made up mostly of deathbed hallucinations that includes visits with Socrates, the Angel of Death, and a giant version of Sophia Loren; that’s enough to get it on the weird map. The fact that it’s visually spectacular and delightfully artificial hurts not a bit.

COMMENTS: In the 1950s all doomed, elegant heroes and heroines in the movies smoked, and smoke is a key visual element of Chicken with Plums. Early in the film, master violinist Nasser-Ali reluctantly smokes opium at the insistence of an antiques dealer; later, his dead mother’s soul is so thick that it’s visible as a cloud of smoke hovering over her grave. Stylistically, the film is itself like smoke, wispy and constantly changing. Dream sequences, flashbacks and flash-forwards explore an expansive visual palette, ranging from figures isolated in Expressionist shadows to popup storybook animations. Everything is deliberately stagebound so that even in the “realistic” scenes, the skies are a hand-painted pink and lavender. The most jarring experiment is a moment where the movie suddenly turns into an American-style sitcom, complete with a laugh track; if you can handle that side trip, you’ll be in for the whole ride. Death-seeking Nasser-Ali, played with frowny melancholia by mustachioed Mathieu Amalric, is a selfish character, to be sure, but the more we learn about his backstory the more forgiving we become. We’re never able to absolve him entirely of his decision to abandon life (and his wife and children), but we do feel the weight he bears through his life, and can appreciate his decision as tragedy. Our hearts break the moment his does. Nasser-Ali’s apparently shrewish wife Faringuisse (de Medeiros) stars in an equally tragic subplot, and one of their two children is given an epilogue that generates further despair. It’s all very romantic, but the old, sentimental “love is worth dying for” theme plays believably only in the unreal movie past the film evokes: the formal world of yesteryear where gentlemen always wear ties, ladies wear hats, and everyone blows smoke directly at the camera. Chicken with Plums‘ 1930s-1950s time frame conjures up a comforting antique nostalgia, and the Iranian setting adds exotic spice. Delightfully strange moments include when the hallucinating musician is smothered in giant cleavage, a visitation from a ragged gravesite prophet, and the chilling appearance of the Angel of Death, who drops by not to claim Nasser-Ali’s soul but just to chat a bit and to tell a morbidly ironic story-within-the-story. Like a solo adagio played on an antique instrument, Nasser-Ali’s tale is beautiful and sad. Unabashedly artificial, unashamed to moon over lost loves, and a little aware of the absurdity of its own romanticism, Chicken with Plums hits a unique note: despondent whimsy.

Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi’s first film collaboration was the award-winning animated Persepolis (2007), adapted by Satrapi from her own autobiographical graphic novel. Chicken with Plums is also from a Satrapi comic, and supposedly tells the (obviously embellished) story of a relative of hers. On an unrelated note, this movie reunites and , last seen together in the Certified Weird The Saddest Music in the World.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The many surreal flourishes, like the film’s giant breasts and petals floating through a pink-tinged sky, are supposed to be absolved of cringing obviousness because they’re, you know, poetic and exotic.”–Farran Smith Nehme, The New York Post (contemporaneous)