Kings and Queen

(Rois et Reine)


A family crises unfolds over a sprawling two-hour running time in the genre-defying Kings and Queen, a critical and commercial smash hit in France that won Mathieu Almaric a Best Actor Cesar, while garnering nominations in nearly every big category (Best Film, Director, Actress, and Supporting Actor). This film is a look at the lives of a family that absorbingly mixes drama, comedy and tragedy. It maintains a certain level of credibility and believability, even while it goes a bit overboard in the comedy department. Above all, director Arnaud Desplechin (Playing "In the Company of Men," Esther Khan) focuses the actors tightly, giving them ample opportunity for emotionally rich performances.

Kings and Queen begins with Nora Coterelle (Emmanuelle Devos, Read My Lips, The Adversary) talking about her life. It feels like she is part of an interview, talking to somebody off screen. She is a single mother, widowed once and divorced once. She adores her son Elias (Valentin Lelong), but wishes he would show more enthusiasm to her currently boyfriend, especially since the two are close to marriage. While visiting her father Louis Jenssens (Maurice Garrel, My Children Are Different, The Red Knight), she discovers that Louis is dying. Despite a quick trip to the hospital, he passes away. She tries in vain to contact her sister Chloe (Nathalie Boutefeu, The Housekeeper, His Brother), but Chloe keeps giving excuses as to why she cannot make it back sooner.

Meanwhile, her ex-husband, Ismail Vuillard (Almaric, A Sight for Sore Eyes, My Children Are Different) is a temperamental musician. His erratic behavior lands him in a mental institution, where he tries in vain to leave. He tries to get his lawyer Marc Mamanne (an amusing Hippolyte Giradot, Modigliani, Jump Tomorrow) to spring him, but Mamanne is more interested in the drugs in the hospital pharmacy. His talks with Mme Vasset (Catherine Deneuve, 8 Women, The Musketeer) make him look worse, since he gets very agitated. Still, the experience is very good for him because it forces him to rethink his priorities.

The same is true for Nora. With her father gone, she is thinking more about her son. What will happen to him if she dies? She has no husband, and her son is not that fond of her potential fiance. Elias adores Ismail, who, on the surface does not seem like somebody who would be a fit father. Desplechin and co-screenwriter Roger Bohbot (Le Silence, Stormy Weather) frequently jump into the past, shedding light on why the characters act as they do. Not only does it show their motivations, but also makes the audience think about them differently. Ismail is not made - he is an extremely passionate, and difficult artist. Nora may be a good mother, but she wasn't necessarily a great daughter. In fact, after his death, she discovers a scathing letter that Louis left for her. Devos and Almaric are very good, the latter particularly in an extended monologue near the end. Kings and Queen moves slowly, and Devos and Almaric have little screen time together, but the film never feels slow or pretentious. Desplechin simply lets events unfold at their natural speed, and captures the real emotion and drama surrounding them on film.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 10 minutes, French with English subtitles, Not Rated but contains language, probably a PG-13 or R.

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