Cannes 2023 review: Chicken for Linda! (Sébastien Laudenbach & Chiara Malta)

Chicken for Linda! is one of the year’s most charming gems, and further proof of the virtue of animation as not merely a genre, but an entire art form in itself.”

Sometimes, the creature comforts are enough to get us through a difficult day – or at least this is the thesis statement made by Sébastien Laudenbach and Chiara Malta in Chicken for Linda!, their wildly ambitious and utterly delightful animated comedy which explores the relationship between a hardworking single mother and her daughter (the titular Linda) as they undergo the usual struggles that come with growing up in a world in which very little actually makes much sense. Another collaboration between the directors, who had previously worked together on a number of films (often occupying various roles on each other’s projects, becoming one of the most exciting husband-and-wife artistic duos working presently), this is quite a daring film and one that certainly stands out in terms of both narrative and visual prowess, and which goes in search of something much deeper than we may initially expect based on a cursory glance. Delightful in a way that is impossible to ignore and even more difficult to describe and filled with a sense of heartfulness and genuine humour that works alongside the more melancholy overtures, Chicken for Linda! is one of the year’s most charming gems, and further proof of the virtue of animation as not merely a genre, but an entire art form in itself that continues to grow and give a voice to some of the most creative individuals working at the moment.

From its first moments, we are immediately struck by the creativity that went into the making of Chicken for Linda!, which is one of the year’s most visually fascinating films. Laudenbach had previously directed The Girl Without Hands, a celebrated work of contemporary animation praised for its unique style and incredible intimacy, both in its story and how it was made, with much of the discussion revolving around how the director animated it entirely himself. This film follows a similar style, using hand-drawn, two-dimensional animation to bring to life a very different depiction of Paris, one that is recognizable through a few visual and contextual clues, but also slightly off-kilter, enough to lay the foundation for a more elastic level of plausibility. The use of colour on its own warrants immense discussion, especially in how it goes beyond simply using bright colours to create a memorable story, but how they play off each other, creating entire thematic threads without even drawing our attention to these details. This film proves that some of the most effective and beautiful works are also the simplest, with the hypnotic beauty of Chicken for Linda! lending credence to the idea that creativity does not always need to be equated with excessive construction, and that a simpler composition can be just as mesmerizing, granted there is some depth that helps propel the story forward, which is most certainly the case with this film. 

However, delightful as it may appear on the surface, it is important to not trivialize Chicken for Linda! as an inconsequential animated film – as we have seen frequently over the years, the medium of animation has been at the forefront of some provocative and deeply resonant stories, and this film is no exception, despite its vivacious and colourful appearance. Despite its idiosyncratic style, there is a complexity that simmers beneath the surface, frequently making covert social and political statements, which come across as genuine attempts to add nuance to this story in a way that is meaningful and insightful. Using the concept of a protest as the framing device not only captures the spirit of socially conscious rebellion that this story seems intent on portraying, but also adds a significant resonance. Especially in light of the ongoing protests not only within the film’s native France, but across the globe, many of the themes at the heart of Chicken for Linda! become universally relevant. This is all tied together through the theme of family, with the dynamic between the two main characters forming the emotional core of the film, allowing it to be adept at both heartful and intelligent commentary, which is quite a rare achievement for something that does not immediately lend itself to these complex themes.

Chicken for Linda! has a distinct atmosphere, one that exists at the perfect intersection between outrageous comedy that veers close to slapstick, and familial melodrama. The interactions between the two lead characters (voiced by Mélinée Leclerc and Clotilde Hesme, both delivering exceptional performances that are well-calibrated to the emotional beats of the story) form the foundation for some truly compelling moments that are both nostalgic and wickedly funny, which is perhaps the only way this story could have been told. There is a strong conceptual foundation behind this film, which creates a distinctly unique and powerful combination of ideas, each one pieced together beautifully by the directors. Their work is impeccable and well-crafted, much more than we may initially expect from such a seemingly small animated comedy. Appearances can certainly be deceiving, and while Chicken for Linda! does deliver on every promise it makes, it’s those unpredictable elements that are most compelling – the unexpected wealth of genuine human emotion, the gentle and tender-hearted sense of humour, and the social message that bears strong relevance to the modern world. Combined with the striking animation, which is immersive in its beauty and unquestionably unique, these ideas manifest into a gorgeous and intriguing work filled to the brim with heart and soul. Enough to force the audience to lament the end of the 76 minutes we spend with the film, since the world in which this story takes place is beyond enchanting, and the impulse to explore it and interact with these characters proves the incredible narrative merit and unimpeachable artistic integrity that inspired its creation.