Kings and Queen

Director: Arnaud Desplechin

France| 2004. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 150 min

Watching Arnaud Desplechin’s Kings and Queen is akin to plunging into a sprawling novel whose characters, all linked by blood or bed, become old friends. Switching between the dilemmas of Emmanuelle Devos’ character and the manic antics of Mathieu Amalric’s, this enjoyable French film welds together drama, melodrama and comedy with freewheeling storytelling and literary/artistic references.
In the film’s first ‘chapter’, Nora (the engaging Devos) tells the camera she’s 35, the director of an art gallery (where everyone adores her), has a son by her deceased first husband, is divorced from the second and about to marry a rich businessman. Meanwhile, a neurotic violinist named Ismaël (Amalric) is flipping out in his ratty apartment. Hounded by the tax collectors and a slightly loony sister, he indulges in some harmless eccentricity that lands him in a mental institution. As she juggles her responsibilities towards her dying father with those of her 10-year-old son, Nora turns to the one man she believes can offer the boy security for the future: Ismaël, who is revealed to be none other than her second husband. Learning this improbable couple was once together radically changes viewers’ perspective of both partners. Further adjustment is required when revelation follows on revelation. One can pick and choose among various thematic strands, none of which are stressed. Devos, who carries the film with her crooked smile, skilfully hides her enigmas behind a mask of respectability. Amalric, a loud-talking sprite, backs up his comic business with learned quotes, which give the Ismaël character unexpected depth.

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