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Thread: Arnaud Desplechin: Kings and Queen (2004)

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    Arnaud Desplechin: Kings and Queen (2004)

    This is a re-issue. Posted earlier here http://www.filmwurld.com/forums/show...ighlight=SFIFF. Since the film opened in NYC it has done very well critically in the US.

    Rois et reine

    Review by Chris Knipp

    Wildly unedited but consistently engaging

    (San Francisco Film Festival showing, March 22, 2005)

    23 April 2005

    An amazing if somewhat indigestible film, Desplechin's KINGS AND QUEEN (Rois et reine) is a genre-bending family drama that alternates wired comedy with solemn tragedy, in particular nutty violist Ismaël's (Mathieu Amalric's) tax problems and sudden third-party commitment to a mental hospital and ex-girlfriend Nora's (Emmanuelle Devos') discovery that her writer father is dying of advanced stomach cancer. Meanwhile Nora is haunted by memories of the father of her young son Elias (Valentin Lelong), is about to marry a rich "gangster," and other relatives wander in and out of a tumultuous narrative which alternates present tense scenes with flashbacks, dreams and fantasies. Buffoonery and melodrama, which are sometimes hard to separate, turn out to work well together as director Desplechin modestly points out is true of Shakespeare, whose King Lear may have given him the idea for the brutal, vindictive final letter Nora's father, Louis Jenssens (Maurice Garrel) leaves for her. The audience at the SFFF cheered a gratuitous sequence where Ismaël's father Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) singlehandedly subdues three punks trying to rob his convenience store while Ismaël looks on with terror. In the next scene, father and son are lifting weights together at a health club. The plan by Abel, who was himself adopted, to adopt a man who's lived with him and his wife for years, over the protests of his adult children, rhymes palpably with the question of Ismaël's adopting Elias, who doesn't like Nora's new man, Jean-Jacques (Olivier Rabourdin). The long scene where Ismaël explains to Elias why he can't adopt him, while they walk through a museum, is one of a number of tours de force.

    Secondary characters in this overwritten but always entertaining drama make themselves hard to forget though buffoonery in the case of the Ismaël's junkie lawyer (Hypolytte Girardot); though their neediness, in the case of Arielle, "la Chinoise" a flirtatious 'princess' at the psych hospital, (Magalie Woch) or Nora's sister down-and-out Chloé, (Nathalie Boutefeu); bitchiness in the case of Ismaë's sister. Ismaël's usual shrink is a huge African grande dame; he gets his entrance exam and his walking papers at the hospital from none other than Catherine Deneuve (whose iciness and soulfulness would be an unforgettable blend even if she were not already one of the world's most beautiful sixty-somethings). The women are goddesses, bitches, or queens. Ismaël says women have no souls; but the story's main men are talented but narcissitic problem children. Elias seems poised to grow up into one of those too. Most of the acting is remarkable, or at the very least arresting. The mercurial Amalric and lovely Devos completely live up to their top billing. Still, even their parts might have done with some trimming back.

    The movie comes with allusions to Leda and the Swan, Nietsche, Yeats, Emily Dickinson, and a large number of musical references including rap (and a break dancing demo by Ismaël at the mental hospital), Klezmer, Randy Newman and, as a framing device, Moon River. Suspicions that there may be too much going on here are stifled by sheer pleasure in the drama of it all.

    Six César nominations in France, where it opened in late 2004.

    The title may refer to Shakespeare's plays, or to the way paterfamilias are seen by their children. Kings and Queen is wildly underedited and at 2 ½ hours definitely too long; Desplechin even acknowledged repeatedly that his answers to questions after the SFFF showing were too long too. But his inability to edit his work down may be inseparable from his unique flavor and charm. Desplechin wrote the excellent screenplay for Un monde sans pitié (Love Without Pity, 1989) the story of a fascinating young loser. "Desplechin is a wonder with actresses, at least as long as they're with him: Devos' character is close enough to My Sex Life star and former Desplechin paramour Mariane Denicourt that she responded to the movie with a retaliatory roman à clef," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia City Paper. A question about this contretemps met with a flurry of interesting doubletalk from the soft-spoken director. 8/10

    Posted on Chris Knipp website.

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    Hmmm ... when I have the time, I will write more ...
    but for those who are interested, go watch for the performance of the male lead
    ;)

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    Amalric's isn't the only performance worth watching either.

    Kings and Queen has been very well received in this country since I saw it at the SFIFF, some of the New York reviews almost constituting raves. I don't know how widely it's distributed though and nobody else has commented on it here besides you and arsaib I think. Now that I've seen a couple of other recently distributed French films that weren't so good, I can again appreciate how watchable this one is and some time be willing to see it again. Nonetheless the flaws I mentioned are still there, notably the self-indulgence of the director and the resulting sprawling disorganized quality. As I said though, "Suspicions that there may be too much going on here are stifled by sheer pleasure in the drama of it all," and that's a positive thing.

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    Emmanuelle Devos

    Didn't know you hadn't seen it yet.

    Frédéric Fonteyne's La femme de Gilles/Gilles' Wife just opened in New York, starring Devos in a very visual role with Clovis Cornillac, and of course she is a character in Jacques Audiard's De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté/The Beat That My Heart Skipped, so it is a big for her -- in the US, this year, if all these opened here in 2005, which I guess they did.

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    I'm not sure if The Beat That My Heart Skipped really counts for her. I'm looking forward to Gilles' Wife.

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    BIGGER than Life and 4 ideas/min.

    Kings and Queen, the latest film from co-writer/director Arnaud Desplechin, sprung from the idea of mixing and comparing a melodrama and a "burlesque comedy" whose historically-connected protagonists are quite different in personality.

    The melodrama's protagonist is 35 y.o. Nora (Emmanuelle Devos), a name borrowed from an Ibsen play but inspired by characters from American "weepies" of the late 40s and 50s and Hitchcock heroines like Marnie and Rebecca. At the age of 25 she experienced the suicide of Pierre, her boyfriend and father of her 10 year old son Elias, for which she blames herself. In the present, she learns her father is on the verge of dying from cancer and she must decide on her own when to terminate treatment because her estranged sister chooses not to get involved. As a matter of fact, Nora's relationships with her son and her father are most intense and enmeshed, even emotionally incestuous. There's a crucial moment in Kings and Queen when Nora comes to this realization. She finds in her dead father's journal a letter addressed to her that expresses a violent love/hate that overwhelms and impedes growth. Nora tears off the pages, burns them in ritualistic fashion, and decides Elias needs a father figure now that his grandad is dead. She decides Ismael fits the bill better than her new husband-to-be.

    Ismael is the protagonist of the "burlesque comedy" (as labeled by Desplechin). He was Nora's live-in boyfriend for 7 years and treated Elias as if he was his own son. Ismael is a viola player in a quartet who has been undergoing psychotherapy for 8 years for what appears to be bipolar disorder. When we meet Ismael, he's being hospitalized against his will through a procedure called third-party commitment. We learn that he's being pursued by tax inspectors for failure to pay and that his sister was one of the "third parties" responsible for his hospitalization (a sister that appears more symptomatic than Ismael himself, although the p.o.v. of their scene together is Ismael's and he may be fibbing). Ismael gets his substance-abusing friend and lawyer to help him get discharged but not before befriending a young suicide-prone girl. This is all played for laughs and includes Ismael dancing hip-hop in front of patients and staff, and a slapstick scene in which he and the crazy lawyer raid the pharmacy. There's also a hint (confirmed by Desplechin in an interview with Kent Jones) that the lawyer had sex with the hospital's chief shrink (Catherine Deneuve) in order to expedite Ismael's release.

    Scenes from both stories alternate for a while before they begin to merge with increasing frequency. Both stories are told in a free-associational style akin to psychoanalysis, with unexpected flashbacks and fully-visualized dreams. There's a mythic quality to many passages, as Desplechin is not afraid to make the ghost of Pierre appear to Nora or show her father post-mortem reading the tragic letter in what looks like a black-box theatre. The performances are deconstructed by having scenes made up of shots from various takes, sometimes from radically different takes. The script itself is highly intertextual and referential. As a matter of fact, Desplechin states he was inspired by Truffaut directing the scriptwriter of his Wild Child to write one-minute scenes that contain four ideas, and that "realism is just a style like Cubism" so he'd rather be "bigger than life". A film that is both brutally tragic and brutally funny, states the auteur.

    It would be quite interesting to analyze the many filmic, literary and mythological references and allusions in Kings and Queen but it would require a lot of time and effort and perhaps a different forum. But a key reference is to Vertigo and its French source novel, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac's "D'Entre Les Morts", featured prominently as an intertitle. A reference that also applies to the deaths of Nora's father and Pierre. Nora's journey toward liberating herself from her corresponding guilt about these deaths is the nucleus of Desplechin's rich and generous movie-movie.

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    Enlightening discussion.

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    Thank you. My review is too short to express all my thoughts and feelings about Kings and Queen. You did a good job praising the acting so I didn't even mention the performances. The Louis-as-King-Lear association, which you brought up, is most important. I'm also glad you provided the most significant example of the rhyming effects between the two stories: Nora's desire to have Elias adopted and Ismael's father Abel's wish to adopt his drug-dealing nephew. I didn't get to mention Abel who happens to be the most lovable character to me. He's so courageous,affectionate and funny.The scene in which he single-handedly disarms three thugs attempting a robbery is hilarious.

    *An important point I merely hinted at concerns the subjectivity of the flashbacks. It's up to the viewer to decide whether Nora and Ismael remember accurately AND whether they are making an effort to be truthful to themselves and others about past events.

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    You certainly have some great observations here. You may make it sound more interesting than it actually is. It’s interesting, but is it a good movie? Or just a lot of ideas spliced together? I agreed it is fun to watch, even though it’s too long. I still am a little surprised with what the NY film critics said about it, and their putting it on their ten best lists now. They influence each other. They also don’t have a good field to choose from. They raved about A tout de suite, which turned out to be pretty much a film that fizzled out. Several new French films or films IN FRENCH anyway, strike me as better. One of these is The Beat That My Heart Skipped/De battre mon Coeur s’est arrêté; and of course Haneke's Caché.

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    You certainly have some great observations here. You may make it sound more interesting than it actually is. It’s interesting, but is it a good movie? Or just a lot of ideas spliced together? I agreed it is fun to watch, even though it’s too long. I still am a little surprised with what the NY film critics said about it, and their putting it on their ten best lists now. They influence each other. They also don’t have a good field to choose from. They raved about A tout de suite, which turned out to be pretty much a film that fizzled out. Several new French films or films IN FRENCH anyway, strike me as better. One of these is The Beat That My Heart Skipped/De battre mon Coeur s’est arrêté; and of course Haneke's Caché, AKA Hidden.

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    I was curious to find out which foreign films came second and third to 2046 in the NY Film Critics Circle poll, but they don't make that information available.
    The Village Voice Critics Poll (103 voters this year) has A History of Violence #1, 2046 #2, Kings and Queen at #3 and Grizzly Man at #4. Other French titles include Hidden at #8, The Intruder at #15, Beat at #38, Look at Me #41, A Tout de Suite at #60, and Lila Says at #86. I hope to catch Hidden and The Intruder before I post my list in February.
    As of right now my favorite French films are Kings and Queen and the straight-to-video Not On the Lips directed by Alain Resnais. This is followed by Look at Me, Akerman's Tomorrow We Move, Beat..., Clean, and lastly Lila Says (which I know you didn't like).
    Among undistributed films, I have Rivette's Histoire de Marie et Julien and Garrel's Sauvage Innocence although the latter is already 3 years old.

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    Well, these have to be sorted out individually, annual Best Lists are a personal thing and no two are alike. I was just talking about French films that were released in this country this year; they may not have the same release dates in France. I don't think a lot of people really liked Lila Says. It has had many who were not impressed.
    I also think that A History of Violence is overrated, very much so, and I can see this year as in other years how critical opinions can snowball; a few like something and then before long they all think they do too. Grizzly Man is great. I rate it very high, bearing in mind that I have not seen Herzog's other recent documentary or a lot of other new ones. Clean I thought was last year. Even though I am not satisfied with 2046 I have to consider it one of the year's great foreign films because of the style and the quality of its being a kind of summary of Wong's period preoccupations. Wong is one of the foreign filmmakers who has mattered most to me over the last decade or so. Haneke I have discoverd relatively late but I admire him more and more and think Caché one of the year's best too. I wouldn't get too hung up on the Village poll. It may look canonical but it ain't. None of them are. Yeah, The Intruder....that was a fresh experience. You probably are going to like it. I see Carlos Reygadas has a new film opening here in NYC at the Angelika Film Center shortly. If you're talking about Garrel it would be better to mention Regular Lovers, which came out this year and was at the NYFF maybe Toronto and Cannes, with no US distributor though.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-30-2005 at 11:02 PM.

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    Well, the Garrel I got to watch this year is the one before Regular Lovers and I liked it enough to place it in my top 10 Undistributed Films I watched this year. I envy your having seen his latest one. But I believe I will get to watch it in 2006 because the theatrical UK release in April almost guarantees it will come out on dvd there (Of course it's coming out in dvd in France but often these don't have English subs).
    * I get the impression you didn't notice all the quotation marks on everything on Conenberg's film and watched it solely as the genre film it pretends to be. It's a definite Eng. language Top 10 for me.
    *Clean will be officially released in the USA in April 2006 by Palm Pictures so I'll have to list it under Undistributed Films, but outside the Top 10.
    *2046 was my favorite undistributed film of 2004 and now is my favorite foreign film of 2006 (at least as of right now).
    *Perhaps the two distributed films I loved pasionately than you haven't seen are Yes (which got mixed reviews as it's to be expected for such a radical, experimental film) and The Holy Girl which placed in the Top 10 of the Voice's poll.
    *Cache and The Intruder will open here within weeks (but release schedules sometimes change).
    *Can't wait for the new Reygadas. It'll probably play at the Miami IFF.

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    We have had some debate on A History of Violence before, and some interesting things came out of it, in fact I think it was one of the best discussion threads on a new movie here this year. Yes, your "impression" that you "get" that I "didn't notice all the quotation marks on everything on Cronenberg's film" is quite correct, except that that is a setup statement because I don't buy its assumptions. I still don't "get" the movie and question that there is much to "get." "Quotation marks" don't exist on film, per se. What do you mean by this metaphor? Explain. Prove it.

    We should take this back over to the History of Violence thread though.

    My impression is that 2046 showed here in this past year. It was showing in New York City only recently and in Berkeley ealier. Hence I see nothing wrong with listing it in my Best Foriegn list for 2005. Clean, I don't know, I just saw it when it opened in Paris in September 2004. We debated it some on a thread here, and people have seen it, but I disagreed with arsaib4 who loved it before he even saw it, and I thought it was interesting but overrated. In particular Maggie Cheung's performance was overrated, but I understand that. Men fall in love with Maggie Cheung. She was kind of clunky in her early days but even then she was appealing and now she has become pretty cool and elegant and sexy, no doubt about it. I didn't think she did a fantastic acting job in Clean or really was given the opportunity to. French critics thought otherwise. I haven't seen Yes. I have heard enough about it not to want to see it. However, I should have seen The Holy Girl. I just let it slip by. I should rent it. That was an oversight on my part. By the way, the lastest issue of TimeOutNY is sitting beside me on the desk and the movie "Best and Worst of 2005" includes three of their writers' lists. Each one has a "Worst" listed; David Fear's is Where the Truth LIes, Joshua Rothkopf's is Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, and Melissa Anderson's is Lila Says, about which her comment is:
    The sexual politics in this French atrocity about a 16-year-old nymphet who's raped for telling smutty tales make it clear that the devil is a woman.
    I don't think it's an atrocity but I do think it's embarassing.

    But none of this chitchat belongs on a thread about Rois et reine, but on a thread about 2005: the year's best films.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-31-2005 at 12:56 AM.

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    Indeed, 2046 is an official 2005 USA release. I will list it on 2005's list. I listed it last year as Undistributed.
    We've already discussed Cronenberg's film in its thread anyway (same goes for Crash and Junebug, on which we'll have to agree to disagree), and Lila won't get near my top 10 so it doesn't matter. I'd defend Yes to death but you've decided not to see it, which I respect. Nothing more specific since this is not the right thread.

    I happen to think the epilogue of Desplechin's movie is very wise, y'know the life lessons Ismael passes onto Elias when we learn he's decided not to adopt him. I thought discussing this point in my review would be revealing too much. It seemed to me quite original and heartfelt. I know it's been a while since you saw it though.

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