Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 27, 2005 6:58 pm 
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Wildly unedited but consistently engaging

(San Francisco Film Festival showing, March 22, 2005)

23 April 2005

An amazing if somewhat indigestible film, Desplechin's KINGS AND QUEEN (Rois et reine) is a genre-bending family drama that alternates wired comedy with solemn tragedy, in particular nutty violist Ismaël's (Mathieu Amalric's) tax problems and sudden third-party commitment to a mental hospital and ex-girlfriend Nora's (Emmanuelle Devos') discovery that her writer father is dying of advanced stomach cancer. Meanwhile Nora is haunted by memories of the father of her young son Elias (Valentin Lelong), is about to marry a rich "gangster," and other relatives wander in and out of a tumultuous narrative which alternates present tense scenes with flashbacks, dreams and fantasies. Buffoonery and melodrama, which are sometimes hard to separate, turn out to work well together as director Desplechin modestly points out is true of Shakespeare, whose King Lear may have given him the idea for the brutal, vindictive final letter Nora's father, Louis Jenssens (Maurice Garrel) leaves for her. The audience at the SFFF cheered a gratuitous sequence where Ismaël's father Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) singlehandedly subdues three punks trying to rob his convenience store while Ismaël looks on with terror. In the next scene, father and son are lifting weights together at a health club. The plan by Abel, who was himself adopted, to adopt a man who's lived with him and his wife for years, over the protests of his adult children, rhymes palpably with the question of Ismaël's adopting Elias, who doesn't like Nora's new man, Jean-Jacques (Olivier Rabourdin). The long scene where Ismaël explains to Elias why he can't adopt him, while they walk through a museum, is one of a number of tours de force.

Secondary characters in this overwritten but always entertaining drama make themselves hard to forget though buffoonery in the case of the Ismaël's junkie lawyer (Hypolytte Girardot); though their neediness, in the case of Arielle, "la Chinoise" a flirtatious 'princess' at the psych hospital, (Magalie Woch) or Nora's sister down-and-out Chloé, (Nathalie Boutefeu); bitchiness in the case of Ismaë's sister. Ismaël's usual shrink is a huge African grande dame; he gets his entrance exam and his walking papers at the hospital from none other than Catherine Deneuve (whose iciness and soulfulness would be an unforgettable blend even if she were not already one of the world's most beautiful sixty-somethings). The women are goddesses, bitches, or queens. Ismaël says women have no souls; but the story's main men are talented but narcissitic problem children. Elias seems poised to grow up into one of those too. Most of the acting is remarkable, or at the very least arresting. The mercurial Amalric and lovely Devos completely live up to their top billing. Still, even their parts might have done with some trimming back.

The movie comes with allusions to Leda and the Swan, Nietsche, Yeats, Emily Dickinson, and a large number of musical references including rap (and a break dancing demo by Ismaël at the mental hospital), Klezmer, Randy Newman and, as a framing device, Moon River. Suspicions that there may be too much going on here are stifled by sheer pleasure in the drama of it all.

Six César nominations in France, where it opened in late 2004.

The title may refer to Shakespeare's plays, or to the way paterfamilias are seen by their children. Kings and Queen is wildly underedited and at 2 ½ hours definitely too long; Desplechin even acknowledged repeatedly that his answers to questions after the SFFF showing were too long too. But his inability to edit his work down may be inseparable from his unique flavor and charm. Desplechin wrote the excellent screenplay for Un monde sans pitié (Love Without Pity, 1989) the story of a fascinating young loser. "Desplechin is a wonder with actresses, at least as long as they're with him: Devos' character is close enough to My Sex Life star and former Desplechin paramour Mariane Denicourt that she responded to the movie with a retaliatory roman à clef," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. A question about this contretemps met with a flurry of interesting doubletalk from the soft-spoken director. 8/10

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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