10 April 2021

Arnaud Desplechin's Rois et reine | Kings and Queen (2004)

Arnaud Desplechin's Rois et reine is an astonishing film, and at 145 minutes it sounds like a long one, although the time goes by very quickly: it's spellbinding too. As regards genre I'd call it a drama, a (sometimes zany) comedy and a thriller, sometimes all of those at the same time. It's also a highly literate and very intelligent movie too. The time isn't linear as it has numerous flashbacks, a fantasy scene, and it has two main threads that come together around mid-point.

Ismaël (Mathieu Amalric) is, er, a highly strung violinist who's depressed and finds himself dragged into a psychiatric hospital by HDT (Hospitalisation à la demande d'un tiers*) and he not only puts up a fight but reacts in a really crazy fashion, blowing up at the first psychiatrist (Catherine Deneuve) who interviews him, telling her women live in a bubble but men go along a straight line (!) and saying 'Je vais vous dénoncer ma petite connasse' ('I'm going to denounce you, you little cunt'). Psychiatric hospitals are a noted theme in Desplechin's films, as is Roubaix, where Desplechin was born and where there's a kind of slapstick (although frightening) shooting scene towards the end in the greengrocer's shop of Ismaël's father Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon): Desplechin is making a comment about what he calls the town's 'mauvaise réputation'.

Meanwhile, we have the art gallery manager Nora (Emmanuelle Devos). Her first husband Pierre (Joachim Salinger) shot himself dead in a row with her, she's about to marry Jean-Jacques (Olivier Rabourdin, who looks like a gangster), and she has a dying father. Later, she claims she's loved four men but killed two of them: she feels guilty because of the row and because she assisted in her father's death to ease his pain. The fourth loved man is Ismaël, which is where the story comes together.

Nora was pregnant by Pierre when he killed himself and her son Élias (Valentin Lelong-Darmon) grew up with Ismaël: she wants Ismaël to adopt him, although in the end Ismaël decides that Élias would be better off with his mother and future husband.

It's adoption that brings the two strains of the film together, and this is a theme in itself: Ismaël's grandmother (Andrée Tainsy) originally adopted Abel, and Abel and his wife Monique (Catherine Rouvel) have decided to adopt cousin Simon (Gilles Cohen).

This being Desplechin, there are many cultural references, far too many to mention even if I'd caught them all. First of all, right at the beginning we have the homage to Breakfast at Tiffany's (or Diamants sur canapé in French): but instead of Audrey Hepburn (as Holly Golightly) getting out of a cab and eating and drinking on Fifth Avenue while looking in the window in Tiffany's, we have Nora leaving a taxi with a cup of coffee and heading for her art shop – also to the tune of 'Moon River', of course. There are also quotations from Apollinaire, Yeats, Nerval and Emily Dickinson among others.

I didn't even manage to fit in ghosts, of which Desplechin is fond either in fantasy sequences or memory, but anyway I think I've already said enough to indicate that this is a feast of a film. And one viewing doesn't do it justice.

*Meaning that a third party has called for it.

No comments: