Cinema Signal:

French Cinema:
From Its Beginnings to the Present
by Remi Fournier Lanzoni
. "Kings and Queen"
[Editor's note: Due to the unpredictable ways that accents and diacritical marks are rendered in a browser, all such characters are intentionally removed.]

French writer-director Arnaud Desplechin ("My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into An Argument") saw fit to make a complex story of love, marriage, divorce, estrangement, and romantic discovery into a saga length tragedy with antic humor and heaps of melodrama. There's an air of all too much self-importance to its 150 minute endlessness.

There was a time when Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) loved her 2nd husband Ismael, but her steady nature and need for stability brought her to divorce the disheveled, neurotic musician, though feelings linger even as, at 35, she finds career success as a gallery director and marriage to a wealthy businessman.

Which is a good thing since Nora and Ismael's lives continue to intersect.

Ismael's life is the kind of mess that follows from his erratic nature and as a magnet for troublesome developments. His sister commits him to a mental institution, where he fights for his sanity against an unbendable clinical psychiatrist (Catherine Deneuve) and where he meets Arielle, a saucy, suicidal fellow inmate who may be no crazier than he. When she lets it be known that her need for him goes beyond just being pals, he puts her off. He's not over the failure of his marriage with Nora, for whom his heart still beats.

Nora's father Ismael, a morose writer, is dying. She calls her drug addict sister Chloe to come home and be with them before it's too late. She tracks Ismael down at the institution and asks him to adopt her young son from her first marriage, Elias, in order to secure legal recognition for the boy.

Ismael's lawyer, whom he's consulted in order to clear his name, is a character with an off beat reaction to his appetite for drugs, evidenced by leading his client to a pharmacy raid at the sanitarium before springing him from it.

Nora finishes the work of nature by administering an overdose of painkiller to her father, who dies of respiratory disease. Daddy gets his revenge in his memoire, which concludes with a vile condemnation of Nora, whom he accuses of being too egotistical for his liking, and declares his undying hatred of her. Coulda' fooled me.

"Write what you know," is the old edict. I think that's what Desplechin has done here... in spades. For me, his best move was to cast the consistently fascinating Devos as his female lead. In her calm, intelligent way, she leads you through this rock pile of intimacies and enigmas with a magnetism that fastens you even as the fatigue becomes laborious.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Emmanuelle Devos
Wife, ex-wife, gallery director, mercy killer

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