Kings and Queens

Thomas 04/09/2005

Rating: 4/5

Kings and Queen is the best film I've ever seen in my life.

Comedy, tragedy, love and hate, it intertwines beautifully so many themes and distils so much emotion it's almost too much to take in. Madness, death, sex, the sexes, birth, family, drugs, the Outsider, poetry, music, friendship, everything that is life is compressed into 2 hours 20 minutes of pure wonder.

From the bright, airy opening where we're first introduced to pretty 35 year-old Nora (Emanuelle Devos), through the darkness of her stay with her terminally ill father and finally to her wedding, we have our preconceptions dashed, our hearts dissected and yet somehow, eventually won. We meet so many players along the way and hear so much typically French musing on life it might have crumpled in different hands, yet director Arnaud Desplechin's deftness of touch keeps everything moving without being blurred, the picture's passion multiplied only in the power of the unfolding story.

As beleaguered violist Ismael, a man on the edge with a noose in his living room and a drug addict lawyer for his only friend, Mathieu Amalric is the film's superb second lead and is so much more than merely the comedic foil to the film's bruised centre. Delicately balancing arrogance and naivety, his manic, irrepressibly lovable performance is the counterpart to the dignity and stillness of Nora's elderly father, played by Maurice Garrell with a statuesque grace that conceals hidden depths of love and rage.

As the film progresses we see the twin threads become one. A decision must be made about Nora's 10 year-old son Elias, and Ismael is the only one who can make it. Holed up in a mental hospital with Catherine Deneuve as his unflappable, charm-resistant doctor, it's hard to see what he can possibly do. But there's so much more still to learn. Beautifully seamless flashbacks slowly fill in the gaps as we learn Nora and Ismael's past, and a scene in which she talks to her first husband, ten years dead is deeply touching; filmed with clarity and skill, each character's eyes say everything the dialogue only hints at.

A note: it would be wrong to say this is a perfect film. The pace and dialogue may be too relentless for some, and a late scene in which Nora burns her father's papers feels oddly staged. But if you can let the former carry you along, impurities like the latter are all too easily forgiven and forgotten, there is simply so much else to engage with.

As the film nears its close, Ismael and little Elias share their first screen time together and their conversation, wandering through the streets of Paris feels so natural, so right it feels like a vindication of the film's soul, of every beautiful contradiction that has gone before. Yet there is no triumph, as the viewer you are simply left thinking. And about so many things, it truly is almost an overload.

I walked out of the cinema trying not to cry, stumbling and kicking the walls. If this comes out on DVD or shows anywhere near you, see it, please. Just see it. Breathtaking.