Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Emmanuelle Devos as Nora
Photo: Wellspring

Directed by: Arnaud Desplechin.
Written by: Arnaud Desplechin & Roger Bohbot.
Director of Photography: Eric Gautier.
Edited by: Laurence Briaud.
Released by: Wellspring.
Language: French with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: France. 150 min. Not Rated.
With: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos & Maurice Garrel.

During 10 turbulent days, Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) finds out her erudite father is rapidly succumbing to stomach cancer while her ex-boyfriend, Ismaël (Mathieu Amalric), has been taken against his will to a mental hospital for psychiatric evaluation. In the breezy opening voice-over, Nora reveals why she broke up with him. According to her father, "being in love means never having to ask," and Ismaël failed at this test. One thing Nora and Ismaël do have common: they both are uncompromising. Nora has since moved on and is about to marry a dull, but giving sugar daddy. Married once before, she has a son, Elias, whose father died before he was born. Ismaël, whom the boy adores, is the only father he has known. (He hasn't warmed up to the new husband-to-be.) Nora seeks out Ismaël in his confinement to ask him to adopt her son.

With dream sequences, abrupt changes of tone, and a diverging story line, Kings and Queen is anything but predictable. Filmed largely with a hand-held camera and with plenty of jump cuts, there is a feeling of spontaneity. But this tragic/comedic hodgepodge remains unconvincing, mostly due to the casting. It's almost as if director Arnaud Desplechin is daring the audience to think that actress Emmanuelle Devos isn't attractive enough for her role. Nora is the type of woman both men and women find remarkably pretty. Ismaël admits he sympathizes with Nora because she's good looking. Nora is also conscious of her assets. Reminding Ismaël why she dumped him, she tells him time is running out; being 33 is young for a man but old for a woman. This casting discrepancy is further pointed out by the presence of Catherine Deneuve as Ismaël's doctor. Nora is an icy role Deneuve would have sunk her teeth into.

Another part of the problem is Devos' uneven performance. Nora is described as insolent, cold, and proud. And as the film unfolds, this is true. But with a timid, whispery voice, Devos' Nora comes across as self-effacing and far too understated. Instead of an iron will, there's petulance. And in a poorly directed flashback, a tense confrontation between Nora and her first husband ends in a whimper; the femme fatale of her personality is missing in action, and as her first husband, Joachim Salinger overacts.

Also unbelievable are the unearned lessons learned by Ismaël. He transforms from a suicidal, arrogant neurotic to a giving, thoughtful man. His final decisions seem sudden and random. Thankfully, Amalric underplays his role, never begging for the audience's sympathy, except for in one painful scene. Part of Ismaëlís treatment includes dance therapy. At first tentative, he slowing gets his groove on, winning over a nurse to a hip hop beat. Kent Turner
May 13, 2005



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