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Chicken for Linda!

I missed Chiara Malta and Sébastien Laudenbach’s animated French escapade “Chicken for Linda!” when it premiered at last year’s Cannes, where it played the off-kilter ACID (Association for the International Distribution of Independent Cinemas) showcase. Ten minutes into this wacky yet frustratingly mournful film about a daughter’s angsty relationship with her widowed mother, a slap heard round the world lands on the bold young girl’s cheek. In that moment you can tell how this playful mishmash of abstract musical, existential dread, and bloodthirsty French children found its way into the festival’s alternative section. 

Tragedy has rendered Linda (voiced by Melinée Leclerc) into a deeply dissatisfied child: She suddenly lost her culinary father when she was a baby due to a dinnertime accident; her mother Paulette (voiced by Clotilde Hesme) now fixes meals in the microwave; mom hasn’t been able to fix the leaky sink in their kitchen; she also refuses to let Linda wear her wedding ring, which catches the viewer’s eye via its glowing green shine. When the ring comes up missing, Paulette believes Linda’s traded the heirloom at school for a beret. As punishment, Paulette decides to drag Linda to the home of her Yoga instructor aunt Astrid (Lætitia Dosch); on the way, mother and daughter engage in a row that culminates with Paulette slapping Linda. “You can’t fix homes. You can’t fix anything,” fumes a wounded Linda.

From the outset, Malta and Laudenbach understand how casually callous a child can be when they’re dealing with grief. Children, of course, are naturally cruel. But Linda is something more; she’s on the edge of a kind of verbal viciousness whose barbs are aimed to kill. When Paulette realizes her error, apologizing to Linda—their fat purple kitty Gazza actually swallowed the ring—her daughter doesn’t immediately forgive her. Rather she asks that Paulette make chicken and peppers for dinner, seemingly the only memory she has of her father is him making the dish. Linda exerts overwhelming pressure on Paulette to come through, to the point that even a general strike, which closes all the grocery stores across Paris, doesn’t perturb her from finding the necessary ingredients. The stress motivates Paulette to steal a live chicken from a farm with aims of slaughtering it, sending mother and daughter on a careening odyssey that’ll put them on a collision course with a bumbling policeman, a lovesick truck driver, an elderly neighbor, and just about every kid in the neighborhood.         

There is a flavorful frivolity to “Chicken for Linda!” It’s the kind of film where musical sequences dedicated to stress eating candy and to the idiocy of dying over dinner gleefully divert us from the primary plot. For an animated picture composed of broad, confident brushstrokes, whose vibrant color palette cakes each character in unalterable textured hues—Linda is smeared in yellow and Paulette is smudged with orange—these digressions are a welcomed, poppy change from the immense dread that looms. Maybe I’m simple, but I sat transfixed at the fate of the chicken. I felt profound anxiety as it hit every corner of the frame in a wild scampering toward its several attempted escapes, zipped to high-speed effect by the oddball score. The tension is only lightened by the morbid humor espoused by Linda as she demands for the fowl’s slaughter, at least, until you realize that she isn’t joking—she actually wants the chicken to meet its maker.     

Despite the film’s abbreviated span, it’s a short 76 minutes, by the final stretch, it runs out of steam. Malta and Laudenbach imbue Linda with a zestful sincerity, but little else. We feel the pain that comes with losing a father at such a young age that you can barely remember him—but beyond that hurt, she feels depressingly one note. Children are often more introspective than we give them credit for, especially when it comes to confronting the realities of death. They have a frankness with themselves and those around them. The bluntness, here, however, is only ever directed by Linda at everyone else, forcing the dinner dish of chicken and peppers to become such a heavily-wielded metaphor that it eventually loses its meaning, intensity, and urgency as the narrative sways toward its wistful yet buoyant conclusion. 

That effect is partly intended: Linda processes her grief, therefore, the dish’s prominence is reduced. That latent bereavement is replaced by the chance at a new life, a new future, and a new family structure. That specter arrives rather suddenly, rather easily, without any complication of what those changes might mean for Linda and what other internal and external ways she has dealt with loss—from the hole left by the events she never experienced with her dad to the other physical objects of his memory that remain in her life. As a small amusement, “Chicken for Linda!” is an enjoyable enough lark. But its flightless emotional course leaves its profundity just out of range.       


Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels is an Associate Editor at Based in Chicago, he is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) and Critics Choice Association (CCA) and regularly contributes to the New York TimesIndieWire, and Screen Daily. He has covered film festivals ranging from Cannes to Sundance to Toronto. He has also written for the Criterion Collection, the Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone about Black American pop culture and issues of representation.

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Chicken for Linda! movie poster

Chicken for Linda! (2024)

73 minutes

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