The Beat that my heart skipped

Director: Jacques Audiard

France| 2005. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 107 min.

Although nominally a remake of James Toback’s Fingers (1978), a typically wayward pile-up of classical pianism, racketeering and forthright sexuality, this latest offering from the brilliant French writer-director of A Self-Made Hero and Read My Lips is a much richer achievement than its nominal source. Jacques Audiard has managed to harness the restlessness of ’70s American cinema to provide a different take on the material, resonating with the dilemmas of filial duty and the tantalising prospect of the road less travelled.

In the Harvey Keitel role of old, Romain Duris brings a clenched ferocity to his role as a jobbing boot-boy in his dad’s dodgy real estate operation, who senses an exit from his daily round of intimidation when the impresario who guided his concert pianist mother’s career offers him an audition. Although he dabbles with dance music in his home set-up, Duris is too rusty to reach the required level of classical accomplishment, and takes on a stern coach in the form of Vietnamese conservatoire student Linh Dan Pham. Progress is tough but evident, until, that is, his errant father (a truly ravaged Niels Arestrup) wanders into even murkier territory than usual.
Audiard’s loose-limbed direction and Duris’s mesmerizing central performance consummately mask the story’s underlying credibility issues. Instead, watching this young man trying to will his body into mastering the pianistic challenge of a Bach toccata, we’re drawn into every fibre of his longing for a better life. The future, of course, is rarely so uncomplicated, and Audiard masterfully intensifies Duris’s central conflict until it’s imbued with telling moral choice. This dark, sexy, thought-provoking thriller is made as only the French know how.

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