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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