Now Playing: KINGS AND QUEEN (2004, Arnaud Desplechin) [seen in theatre]
24 hours later, and I'm still trying to sort out my thoughts about this, the most exciting new film I've seen in ages. It's been a long time since I was able to completely surrender myself to a film, to allow it to carry me away on its shoulders so that I would forget that my moviewatching butt was planted in a seat, so it was no small feat that the film left me, quite frankly, gasping. I credit Desplechin's direction fully for this- his command of the medium here is staggering, and he's able to carry the audience in the palm of his hand even while careening through the ever-shifting tone of the film. It's these tonal fluctuations that are at the heart of KINGS AND QUEEN, which pulls off much more successfully what Woody Allen attempted with MELINDA TIMES TWO- comedy and tragedy, side by side, each playing off the other. Here, rather than attempting to unfold one premise in two different ways as Woody did, Desplechin introduces two very different characters and allows their personalities to dictate the tone of their respective storylines. Where Nora (Emmanuelle Devos), a single mother whose life has been touched numerous times by death- her first husband, and now her father, who has been diagnosed with cancer- has a tendency to bottle up her emotions to maintain the appearance of dignified strength, her second husband Ismael (Matthieu Amalric) has (in spite of being somewhat nuts) had a relatively good life, in that most of the unfortunate business that has occurred has been of his own doing. The two storylines exist largely independent of the other, intersecting only when Nora, worried about her own mortality, goes to convince Ismael to adopt her son in case she dies. Desplechin cuts back and forth between the heavy dealings in Nora's life and the more rambunctious action of Ismael's to shocking effect, subverting conventional emotional trajectories in favor of keeping the audience on edge, and it's breathtaking to behold- one minute, we bear witness to a heartbreaking scene involving Nora and her dying father (the skeletal Maurice Garrel), the next we see Ismael, slightly unhinged but resilient all the same, once again getting into ornery misadventures at the mental hospital. The film sails into the stratosphere, however, in the extended epilogue, in which (not to give too much away) Matthieu imparts some hard-earned wisdom to Nora's son- this sequence got me choked up, not least because Matthieu could just as easily have been talking to me when I was the boy's age. KINGS AND QUEEN is sure to have its detractors (any film that so stubbornly refuses to coddle the audience is bound to), but to my mind, it's alive in a way too films are anymore, and I'm excited to familiarize myself with the rest of Desplechin's work. So yeah, it's a masterpiece.
Rating: ****. Awwwwwwww yeahhhh boyeeeeeeee.
P.S.: In my excitement, I completely neglected to mention two points. First is the rating, which I've added above. Second, and more importantly, Catherine Deneuve, only my favorite actress EVER, has a supporting role as a shrink at the hospital where Amalric is being held. She only has a few scenes, but at least one of them- the one where he declares that "women have no soul"- is pretty classic.