|A FilmExposed Film Review
Kings and Queen (Rois et Reine) (15)
Dir: Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2004, 150 mins, French with subtitles
Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric, Catherine Deneuve
Kings and Queen delivers an example of the kind of drama that French cinema does so well. Not a film easily reduced to a high concept or a single idea, it is a complex story about two adults and how their stories clash and mirror each other.
Nora (Devos) is a 35 year old art gallery manager, devoted to her ten year old son Elias, and about to embark on her third marriage to a wealthy but cold businessman. Ismaël (Almaric) appears to be her utter opposite, a manic, flaky and egotistical musician deep in debt, contemplating suicide and then admitted to a psychiatric hospital. But as the film progresses, it is slowly revealed how their paths once crossed, and will cross again.
It is very much an actor's film, and Devos and Alamaric both give tremendous performances, nuanced, subtle and affecting. Devosí Nora is superficially child-like, but as her family disintegrates around her she starts to unravel, revealing hidden layers of malice, despair and anger. And while Ismaëlís mania might tempt other actors to histrionic excess (imagine Sean Penn or - horror - Tom Hanks in the role), Almaric turns in a humane, controlled and seductive performance, while also delivering most of the filmís several rather funny jokes, including the best break-dancing scene in a French film since La Haine. Even Deneuve, playing a doctor in a cameo role much smaller than her billing on the poster would suggest, provides a gentle and mature counterpoint to the younger actorsí turmoil.
The film is filled with classical allusions, and paintings of Greek and Roman mythology feature conspicuously in the background throughout. Nora's purchase of a print of Leda and the Swan reminds the audience of her own transformation, and when Ismaëlís lawyer drinks from a mug decorated with a picture of Judith severing the head of Holofernes, it offers a bloodthirsty reflection of Ismaëlís treatment by the authorities around him.
So it is a shame that with so much erudite subtlety on display, a considerable portion of the film is spoiled by an intrusive soundtrack that is overeager to set the emotional tone. Opera, light jazz, hip hop, opera again - at times it sounds like the editor has accidentally left his iPod on Ďrandomí while completing the final mix. Thankfully during the second half of the picture there is a little more restraint, and the performances are allowed to speak for themselves.
At two and a half hours in length and with a huge emotional range, Kings and Queen asks a lot of its audience. But it is that rare phenomenon, a long film that fully justifies its duration. Director Arnuad Desplechin has made a complex, evolving, and ultimately uplifting picture that explores its characters' souls deeply and doesn't waste a single minute. Recommended.