Four ideas per minute. That is the motto that Arnaud Desplechin claims to have borrowed from François Truffaut. And if you take into account that KINGS AND QUEEN lasts two and a half hours, one would have to assume that his sixth film has some… 600 ideas. It is not a question of starting to count, of course, but you have to admit, seeing this extraordinary — funny, emotional, tender, dramatic, violent, cruel, sad — story, that it must be close to that number.
KINGS AND QUEEN it is a furious discharge of emotions, a stampede of climates, a frenzy of sensations. Like few recent films (perhaps, BLACK BOOK, also released today, has a similar and palpable physical virulence), Desplechin takes the viewer on an unbridled journey through the mind and the adventures of two characters who, although they are related to each other, lead parallel lives. And very different from each other.
Nora (the haunting and intriguing Emanuelle Devos) runs an art gallery, she has been married twice and is about to do so a third time, and must take care of her sick father and Elías, the son from her first marriage. She is a cold, pragmatic woman who inherited from her father, a famous writer, the habit of hiding her feelings. Having to take care of him and his son puts her in a potentially combustible situation. Desplechin tells his story with a somber tone, mixing risky visual artifacts (ghosts, dramatizations) with a stark description of Nora’s relationships with her people.
On the other hand, there is Ismael (the hyperactive and enterprising Mathieu Amalric), an intelligent, talented and… manic-depressive violist who is forcibly admitted to a psychiatric hospital, in which he will first try to rebel and flee and then begin to establish a relationship with a suicidal patient. For this part of the story, the director handles himself almost in a farce tone, going from crazy comedy (paying attention to the character of his lawyer or his psychologist, who plays Catherine Deneuve) to acid verbal humor.
What is the connection between these very different beings, between these very different films? Ismael was Nora’s second husband, who no longer tolerated his “emotional instability” and left him for a businessman with whom she is not in love. But in the hard time she is going through, Nora will want Ismael to take care of Elías. Not only that: he wants me to adopt it.
KINGS AND QUEEN It is an amazing movie, as manic-depressive as Ismael. Desplechin seems to go from one climate to another, permanently cutting between the two stories, but without ever abandoning his characters. It is a tough film, vast, but immensely generous, inward and outward.
Not only does Desplechin work two different registers for each “part” of his film, but each scene is a prodigy of staging and invention. Abrupt turns of the soundtrack (from hip hop to Bach, nonstop), axis jumps, beats and brutal ellipsis, REYES… always manages to dislodge the viewer and, at the same time, keep him occupied by the future of his characters.
The last part of the film will have overwhelming scenes and devastating confessions; and that emotional stampede proposed by Desplechin will suddenly stop and force the viewer to become aware of the enormity, the cruel beauty of the world in which he has been immersed for more than two hours. That will be the moment when one feels that they do not want to leave Ismael, Nora, Elías and the dozen other characters that accompany them in this vital cocktail shaker. KINGS AND QUEEN. But, at the same time, he also knows that once the word END appears, they will be part of us forever.
Review originally published in Diario Clarín on August 23, 2007
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