The Beat My Heart Skipped (2005)

“You wake up one morning and things have switched places”

Middle-aged, Robert Seyr (Niels Arestrup) is a tough Parisian landlord who also wheels and deals with some shady organisations on the side. When things get too dirty for the aging, hefty father, he unleashes his son on squatters, tenants who won’t pay rent, or other businessmen who’ve ripped him off. Once son Thomas (Romain Duris) gets a nod from his father, he and a group of thugs use violence and destruction to get their objective. Thomas seems to be following in his father’s footsteps with a life of brutality and questionable real estate contracts. But there’s something about Thomas that doesn’t quite fit–he tunes out from life with constant music beamed in through the headphones he wears, and he’s also emotionally distant from everyone in his life and the actions he performs.

Thomas’s deceased mother was a famous concert pianist, and it’s difficult to imagine quite where she squeezed in between Thomas and Robert, but apparently, she passed on her talent to Thomas. He’s never stopped playing the piano. One day, by chance, he runs into his deceased mother’s former manager, and Thomas is invited to audition. Thomas’s obsessive-compulsive nature hits full gear as he throws himself back into training–even employing non-English speaking Chinese student Miao-Lin (Linh-Dan Pham) to coach him.

At first Thomas approaches the music as yet another obstacle to be tackled and wrestled to the floor. There is no joy in his playing. Meanwhile, as he struggles to regain his former talent, his father slips into a business deal with a ruthless Russian gangster.

The performance of Romain Duris is to be greatly praised. He conveys a nervous energy and intensity that is frightening when unleashed. In one scene, when he contemplates revenge, his features contort to the extremes of a gargoyle. The Beat That My Heart Skipped from director Jacques Audiard is too subtle a film to be the story of one man’s triumphs against the odds–at several points, the plot veers away quite deliberately from a sappy Hollywood cliche, and instead the film surprises until the very end. In French with English subtitles.

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