Kings and Queen (2004)

“There are four men I loved. I killed two of them.”

Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) is a divorced, successful Parisian art gallery owner. When the film Kings and Queen (Rois et Reine) begins, she embarks on the journey to see her father–a famous writer–in the country. The men in Nora’s life make a great fuss of her as she departs. There’s her rich fiance, and her assistant who both see her off with a certain ceremony and fussiness. Once at her father’s, it’s apparent that all is not well. He complains of stomach pains, and a trip to the hospital reveals he has cancer and just a short time to live.

At this point, Nora falls apart. Not only is she about to lose her father, but he’s also raising her small son. Nora turns to her ex–Ismael (Mathieu Amalric) who’s currently locked up in a mental hospital–and this may or may not be a bad thing as he’s also wanted by the IRS.

The film is structured–and the term is used loosely–into two sections and an epilogue. The discursive plot meanders back and forth into Nora’s past and reveals … well … a considerable amount of dirty laundry–including one long meandering sequence with her first dead husband. This sequence takes place while Nora waits in the hospital for news of her father. It’s not clear if this chat with her dead husband is a dream, or a ghostly visitation–but whatever it is–it is the first sign that the film has derailed.

While the structure-less plot is a horrible problem here, another problem with this film from director Arnaud Desplechin–is its characters. I’m comfortable with disliking characters, and as a matter of fact, unlikable characters can often make a film–or book–much more interesting. The characters in Kings and Queen however, aren’t just unlikable–they’re annoying. Nora is at first revealed as this ‘together’ gallery owner, but the big send-off by the men in her life should have been a clue that she has a tendency to unravel. And unravel she does … several times. But then none of the characters are quite how they present themselves–take Nora’s wealthy fiance, for example–she’s supposedly marrying him for stability, but he has a narcotics habit that pulls the rug out on that theory. There’s such a dichotomy between how the characters see themselves and the reality from the viewer’s point of view, that ultimately the film is self-indulgent and pretentious.

Emmanuelle Devos delivered an incredible performance in Read My Lips, and her performance here is faultless too. Kings and Queen deals with some very complicated ideas of human behaviour, and unfortunately the constant meandering and lack of structure let the film down. Somewhere in the 150 minutes of Kings and Queen, I suspect there was a decent film. In French with English subtitles.

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