"The Beat That My Heart Skipped"
(aka, "De battre mon coeur s'est arrete'")
[Due to inconsistent ways that accents are rendered in browsers, they have been intentionally omitted.]
This crazy title is misleading and doesn't give a clue at what a fine piece of work this film is. Writer-director Jacques Audiard and co-writer Tonino Benacquista, working from the 1970's film "Fingers" (In France, "Melodie pour un tueur") directed by James Toback and starring Harvey Keitel, set a high mark for any filmmaker who might aspire to create as complete a character study as they did for this 107 minute film, and how to place it within such a dynamic and compelling context. That's not to say that you're going to love the central character and what he stands for.
Thomas Seyr (Romain Duris) is smug, edgy, potentially violent, opportunistic, ambitious, talented, nervously energized. Vanity is not a big factor, but self-confidence is huge. He can be respectful, dismissive or brutal. His main line of work might not make you feel the urge to invite him to dinner, but you're likely to have a concern for how his issues turn out. Certainly, watching him in action from the safety and comfort of your theatre seat is a fascinating and unforgettable experience. The closest I ever felt this way about a movie character was Clive Owen's breakout as "The Croupier."
Seyr is a partner in real estate scams that involve rentals, shady tradeoff deals, the sometimes forceful ejection of squatters and freeloaders, and other obstacles. So, it's no surprise when his Dad and role model Robert (Niels Arestrup) asks him to collect some back rent from a tenant refusing to pay. All in a day's work for a young thug. Only, there's a distraction. A not-so-chance meeting with his dead mother's concert manager, Mr. Fox (Sandy Whitelaw), results in an invitation to audition his piano skills for the possibility of a concert career. Though Thomas hasn't seriously played for years, Thomas thinks his talent is still there and seeks out a professional coach to bring him up to audition level. He winds up under the tutelage of Miao Lin (Linh Dan Pham), a concert pianist who has just emigrated to Paris from Beijing. His discipline and dedication are impressive as he submits to her training.
The positive side of his nature also includes generosity. He's always willing to provide cover for best buddy and partner Fabrice's philandering excursions. His wife Aline (Aure Atika) is deceived until she spots Thomas alone when he's supposed to be with hubby. She figures it all out and takes some carnal revenge by a little philandering of her own, with Thomas.
With their uniquely conceptualized anti-hero, Audiard and Benacquista avoid stereotype. Not a gangster yarn, exactly, nor purely a musician story, but one that is a unique combination of genres. When Dad again asks his son to get money owed to him, this time by Minskov, a Russian mobster (Anton Yakovlev), Thomas scopes his adversary out. Afterward, his advice to his father to write off the debt and forget it because he's up against a whole other class of criminal is not the typical "toughness at any cost" you expect in a gangster yarn. It struck me as another instance of the film's originality.
Niels Arestrup is a colorful presence, reminiscent of older Brand, and fascinating Emmanuelle Devos ("Kings and Queen") as his erstwhile lover a pure standout in an impure role. Thomas Seyr as a character is hard and soft, scheming and pliant, felonious and generous and, against the odds, Duris pulls off the opposing attributes with fascinating consistency. His virtuoso performance is nothing less than memorable and should be applauded as one of the most demanding of the year.
~~ Jules Brenner