on December 27, 2005
There is a chilling scene towards the end of the brilliant, acidic and poetic "Kings and Queen" which shoots a flaming arrow through the heart of any notion that we may have that this film is in any way melodramatic or sentimental (the movie begins and ends with "Moon River"): Nora (the amazing Emmanuelle Devos) comes upon a passage in her dead father, Louis's diary in which he writes about her and among other very cold and brutally honest things, he writes: "I hate that you will survive me...I wish that you were the one dying...I hate you." Couple this with Louis' admission that, since his wife, Nora's mother was sick for a long time, he fell in love with Nora and that she took advantage of his feelings for her...in essence she seduced him. Incest? I'm not sure.
Director Arnaud Desplechin shoots this scene both in color (Nora reading) and in flickering, silent film style black and white (Louis reciting his diary): this simple set up is so effective and so truthful that you gasp with recognition and understanding. Desplechin is dealing with the basic things of life here and what better in this scene than "the thin line between love and hate?"
Desplechin is telling two stories here: one with Nora (and this Nora shares many qualities with Ibsen's Nora...i.e.....she recreates herself during the course of this film) and that of Ismael (the formidable Mathieu Almaric): a former lover of Nora's and a man who is bi-polar, though I prefer the old name for this disease, manic depression which more perfectly describes Ismael.
Nora spends the entire film looking for a father for her child, Elias and Ismael spends the entire film looking for a safe place for himself. One of the most interesting things about this film is that out-of-control Ismael has a big, loving family who surround him with an all-encompassing warm fog of positivism while the controlled, "my father always taught me to control my emotions" Nora really has no one except her son. Nora and Ismael's worlds are opposite of the supposed natural order of things: aren't the well-loved and cared for supposed to be "sane" while the ill nurtured are more often, "crazy?"
Desplechin is dealing with so many things here: mental illness, paternal and maternal love and all its variations, drug addiction, the elements of psychiatric care, male/female relationships and on and on that it took me several viewings to begin to digest and understand all the things with which Desplechin has stuffed his film.
"Kings and Queen" is palpably disturbing on many levels. It is not a comfortable, easily definable film. It's emotions and feelings are sometimes so brutally honest that they physically hurt. But like Nora and Ismael if you survive the ordeal ...you will be better and smarter for it.
on November 30, 2005
This is a pretty complex work of art, so be ready for 2.5 hours of moody melodrama and odd-ball comedy. There are two major story lines in this film, not the typical pattern of a central story line that has a few tangents. These two story lines have equal weight and are allowed to develop for over an hour independent of each other before the films allows the overlap of stories and characters.
In the first story, a beautiful and sophisticated woman, Nora, visits her retired university professor father and finds him very ill. Supported by the staff of the art gallery she manages as well as a sophisticated millionaire boyfriend, she begins to assist her father navigate the medical system. She contacts her junkie sister who begins to hitch hike to her father's side before he dies. She competently holds everything together until a hospice nurse begins to help as the old man goes down for the third time. The intense emotions, the odd dreams, the confrontive relationships full of old hurts, all reminded me of Ingmar Bergman's moody films.
In the second story, a delightfully eccentric musician is hospitalized in a mental hospital at the request of his rageful sister and some unknown party. Ismael, the musician, is comic, creative, resourceful, delightful, sensitive, eccentric, and oddly sexy. He does on a quest to find out who and why he was hositalized. He gets little help from his addicted lawyer or his cold psychiatrist, played by Catherine Deneuve. He continues to see his African Freudian psychotherapist, whom he has seen for 7 years, and we are treated to some wonderful scenes of psychotherapy gone astray. As Ismael runs amuck in the poorly supervised mental hospital, I was reminded of One Flew Oer the Cuckoo's Nest, however there is no mean Nurse Rachett, there are only poorly supervised mental patients eating each other's medications and smoking pot. Ismael is attracted to women in crisis, and finds a suicidal young woman in the hospital, which begins to give us a clue into the relationship he and Nora shared years ago.
We find that Nora was reared by her father to be proud, in control, and highly competent and self contained. Her first husband dies in an automobile accident while she is pregnant and yet she choses to have the baby and proudfully move forward with her life and career as a single mother. Only gradually do we learn that the story was not really as heroic or simple.
Ismael learns that through his delightful and loving family that his crazy rageful sister had him committed along with the business partner of his string quartet.
Nora's father dies before her sister Chloe arrives and when Chole arrives she is in a rage that he died before she arrives.
Gradually the tragic, moody, complicated story of Nora unfolds and we find that she murdered her first boyfriend and her father helped coach her testimony to cover up the incident. Later Nora gives her father enough morphine to kill his pain but also to overdose him and speed his death.
How do these two stories overlap? Well at one time Nora was married to Ismael, a time that you realize was very happy for them both. He was rescuing a woman in pain and she found a fresh soul to nourish her. Nora wishes for Ismael to adopt her son before she marries the sophisticated millionaire who has become her lover but not her emotional support. At first this makes no sense, but as we get to know the sane side of Ismael and the dark side of Nora, it begins to make all the sense in the world.
Nora's father has raised her to be totally emotionally competent and contained, to be the Queen, to meet her own needs, and yet the old man has grown to dispise his creation, to dispise her strength and ability to distance herself emotionally from the events at hand. He parts from this life mostly concerned with editing his last book yet he leaves a final painful parting shot in a crushingly cruel letter to Nora.
We now realize that Nora knows that she was reared by an intellectual sadist father and she wants her son to be adopted by a loving and insane man, Ismael, her second husband. Ismael declines this request, knowing that the 9 year old fellow is beyond his ability to emotionally support over the long term. Yet Ismael explains this to Nora's son in completely beautiful and loving and confirming ways when they spend a day in the natural history museum. Nora's father was internationally known for his brilliance, yet he was cruel to his daughters. Ismael, on the other hand, the runaway mental patient, is loving, caring for others, erotic, honest, playful, and creative.
In an odd way, the film reminds me of Charles Dicken's Great Expectations. In Dickens novel, the proudful Estalla has been emptionally reared to treat men cruely by Miss Havisham. Yet in the end, Estella does not marry Pip, the sweet boy that loves her, and selects to marry a man with whom she is not emotionally attached but also one she will not hurt. Estella and Nora have some traits in common.
You are probably tired of reading all this at this point. I need to tell you that I have only scratched the surface of this film. It is multi-layered with meanings hidden within meanings. It is exceptionally well made, well acted, well written, and beautifully filmed. It is complex and adult. No one is a villian, not one is a hero, they are what they are - living characters - which attests to the strength of this film.
This film really should have brought the director Andres Desplechin much deserved and long overdue fame in the United States; it is one of the best films to come out of France (as far as I can tell) in a long time, and one of the best films of the year from anywhere. While very different, and a bit darker, I would compare the film to Jules and Jim for its fresh and illuminating power.
It tells the story of Nora (the "Queen" played by the always intriguing Emmanuelle Devos), and the men in her life, most notably her two exes (one of whom either died or was killed and the other who has just been committed to a mental hospital), her current husband, her son, and her father. She is, it seems, a light and lovely woman who one cannot help but admire, but one who (as we come to discover) can also devastate those who love her. The film comes to alternate between Nora's point of view and that of Ismael, her lively if a bit neurotic ex-husband. The characters are brought to life in a remarkable way, and the stories are brought to a very thoughtful and satisfying (even if a bit troubling) conclusion, insofar as both characters have a deep but very different connection to Nora's son. One feature of the film that is particularly intriguing is the way in which (we) the audience are led to reevaluate our own allegiances to the various characters throughout the film.
The film does start out a bit slowly, and takes its time to tell its stories, but it gradually came to grip me and I couldn't shake (and didn't want to) the feelings and memories and questions it raised for me for several days afterwards. Desplechin employs several devices on occasion, such as blink jump cuts and fantasy scenes, that in the hands of a lesser director would amount to cliche or ostentatious display (I think of the recent film Stay with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts along these lines: it overused its trickery to the point where it began feeling gimmicky) but here gives just the right atmosphere: leaving us a bit unsure of what is real and what is point of view or reconstruction, even while everything as it unfolds has the same aura of authenticity. It is really too bad that there is no market except on the fringe (where arthouse theaters seem to have been relegated in most cities) for films this thoughtful and sophisticated in the United States. (It never played in my market (Tampa Bay, FL) even at the arthouse theaters.)
on April 21, 2007
"Rois et reine" aka "Kings and Queen" (2004) directed by Arnaud Desplechin is a most unusual film that mixes expertly comical and tragic, unbearable and optimistic, life and death that are intertwined in the story of two former lovers whose lives have crossed once more when they least expected. Nora (Devos) has to take care of her dying father. Ismael (Almaric), a talented but neurotic musician (Roman Polansky + Woody Allen) is mistakenly committed to a mental hospital under the care of a clinical psychiatrist, forever young and still the most beautiful woman in the world, Catherine Denueve. ("Do you know that you are very beautiful"? - asked Ismael. "I've been told", smiles she). I still think about the movie - the complicated relationships between one woman and several men in her life - how much she affected them, sometimes, with tragic consequences. This is also the movie about perception - how big is the difference between the way we see ourselves and the others see us and what they think of us in reality. It is a movie about love - is it always blind? Is it possible to love deeply and see with the clear eyes? I was totally engrossed and heartbroken by some scenes involving Devos's caring for her dying father, by the flashbacks that tell about her relationship with the father of her son, and next minute I was laughing out loud following the Almaric's ordeal in a mental hospital and his attempts to escape. The movie could've been a gem but it is too long, has too many characters that were perhaps very interesting but I never knew what happened to them and it could be confusing due to its broken narrative which was OK by me but the final result even compelling and memorable was not completely satisfying. Both Mathieu Almaric and Manu Devos are marvelously talented actors and they were the main reason that overlong and confusing movie worked. I hope to see both Almaric and Devos in many more movies. I remember Devos since the first movie I saw her in - "Sur Mes Levres" and I knew then that she had all potentials to become a great actress. Her acting in "Rois et reine" confirmed my first impression.