The Royal Oui

Kings and Queen

Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric, and Catherine Deneuve star in a film written by Roger Bohbot and Arnaud Desplechin and directed by Desplechin. Screens on Monday, May 8, 7:30 p.m., at UCSB’s Campbell Hall.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

Melodrama is not a pejorative term, I know. But the critics who refer to Arnaud Desplechin’s brilliant Kings and Queen as an exemplar of the M-word genre risk underselling the package. It’s charged indeed, but much of the raw thrill of it attaches to the beautiful and mercurial Emmanuelle Devos as Nora. The film opens on a bright intersection of Paris with traffic flowing to a light jazz rendition of “Moon River.” So with Breakfast at Tiffany’s subliminally lodged in our brain, we meet Nora, who talks to the camera and would give Holly Golightly a shock of recognition and then, much later, a kind of cerebral chill.

Not exactly the stuff of melodrama, but the story roils with emotions none the less. Nora’s father is dying and, meanwhile, staffers of the big, ominously bright hospital have whisked her ex-husband, Ismael, a self-styled viola genius, to the other kind of hospital. Here a subtly styled French parody of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest unwinds in cross-cut with Nora’s family fate. Even more delightful, the stories are prone to seamless breaks into subconscious terrain of fantasies and dreams and sudden jumps to the laden past of both of these characters.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film that will introduce passages from works like Apollinaire’s Alcools or Yeats’s The Circus Animal’s Desertion. This movie seems totally unafraid to court myth or other literary texts as textures, though, truth be told, I’m not sure where its own literary pretenses lead. (The title is vaguely perplexing.) At the same time, the whole experience, at over two hours, is richly satisfying. I’m going to credit the melodramatic elements of the film for making it compelling. But the sleek structure of Kings and Queen harbors a fascinating thoughtfulness that gives it a dark ring of solemn truthfulness, too.

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