14 June 2005 | noralee
Beautifully Fascinating Deconstruction of Intersecting Families
"Kings and Queen (Rois et reine)" is a deceptively beautiful looking exploration of the differences between appearances and substance.
Our first impressions of each parallel character who seems to have no relation with any other character undergo a complete turn-around by the time we have finished circling around them in time and space at the end of the film, especially as we begin to realize they are unreliable, self-serving narrators of their own experiences.
Each person is part of a very modern blended family, both by genetics and selection, and faces the most quotidian of life cycle decisions -- life, birth, marriage, paying bills, parent/child responsibilities, Laingian sanity and particularly death -- and makes a different choice how to handle them, whether active or passive, peremptorily or as fate.
But each choice leads them to the next unexpected plateau of choices with guilt hanging on each move. For each, doing the right thing means something completely different as each responds differently to an emotional and physical crisis.
Though psychoanalysis is drolly mocked as just another philosophy, each character may be eccentric or seriously crazy and undergoes Freudian traumatizations by family in casually cruel ways that alternate between funny and shocking (and sometimes absurd).
Director/co-writer Arnaud Desplechin revels in the diversity of his characters, so that as their orbits collide they can hardly communicate because their frames of reference are so different.
The acting brilliantly matches the unexpected revelations that flash back to let us know how each character got to be this person and the transformations to where they are going. Emmanuelle Devos as "Nora" lusciously fills the screen even as we find that her nonchalant beauty masks the devastation she leaves in her wake as it helps her use others for her selfish needs.
Desplechin has frequently cited Woody Allen as an influence (and "Seinfeld"), and Mathieu Amalric's Ismaël is a tribute to that talkative, intellectual Jewish persona and Philip Roth is mentioned as well, though this character is much more up on hip pop music and surprisingly matures as he gains far more humanity than his New York inspirations.
The film is long and slow, but curiosity about how each character got to where the film started is involving.
It's impossible to keep up with all the erudite references to poetry (Desplechin says the title comes from a chess metaphor in a French poem: "King without kingdom/ Queen without a scene/ Castle broken/ Bishop betrayed/ Fool as a brave man"), literature, mythology, art, music and film ("Moon River" seems to be used frequently these days).
Eric Gautier's cinematography is sensual and is particularly dreamy when an awful event occurs.
The production design creates illustrative environments for each person and family, as every object around each character has ironic counterpoint to the dialog.
The soundtrack eclectically extends from electronica to klezmer to hip hop to singer/songwriters Paul Weller and Randy Newman to classical and more that reflect the characters' psychological mise en scenes.