Arnaud Desplechin

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

, /10

Arnaud Desplechin (France, 1960)

Rois et Reine/ Kings and Queen (2002) blurs reality, imagination and past. Characters reveal their true nature during the film. Initially the protagonist looks like a good affectionate mother and daughter, who married (and divorced) a madman. The protagonist turns out to be abusive, cynical, selfish. Her husband turns out to be abused, eccentric but generous. She opens the film by saying that her child is all her life but then she seems to do everything to get rid of him, first leaving him with his granpa and then having his stepfather adopt him. The film also contains a satire of drug addiction, probably a metaphor for the materialistic society that dominates.

Nora is 35. She had her child Elias (who IS her life, she says) from her first husband, who died very young before the child was born. She then divorced her second husband. She is now engaged to the wealthy and devoted Jean-Jacques, for whom she feels no love. She is a business woman with very little spare time. She buys a gift (an ancient drawing of the legend of Leda and the swan) for her father and drives to pick up her son and visit the old man, who is a celebrated writer. The gift is to celebrate the man's birthday but he is desperate: he has been bleeding from his anus and cries like a child to her. She takes him to the hospital where a doctor diagnoses a cancer in advanced state and recommends immediate surgery.

Elsewhere Ismael is listening to loud metal and rap music. He does not pick up the phone when it rings: the tax people are looking for him. Two male nurses show up and drag him to the mental asylum against his will., noticing that he has prepared a stool and a noose to hang himself. The bigger of the nurses gets injured in the process. Ismael claims in vain to be a viola player in a classical quartet.

The surgeon tells Nora that her father's cancer is so advanced that the operation was interrupted. The old man only has a few days to live.

Ismael's parents visit him at the hospital but refuse to help him. The chief psychiatrist is a cold woman who is insulted by Ismael's sexist remarks and so sentences him to a week of hospitalization., even though he does not appear to be mad. A flashback shows Ismael arguing with the hysterical sister who committed him to the mental asylum the first time.

Nora finally receives a call from her sister Chloe, who lives a destitute life. Chloe is penniless and was hoping to receive money from their father. Nora begs her to come asap. Chloe is devastated to learn that her father cannot send her any money but promises to hitchhike asap. She refuses any help from Nora.

Nora has a vision of her dead husband Pierre, whom she loved so much. She is delighted to see him. She tells him how she insisted to have the bureaucracy recognize him (already dead at the time) as the biological father of Elias, a process that eventually involved a farcical posthumous wedding.

Ismael is desperately looking for someone who can help him get out of the mental asylum. His only friend is the crazy attorney who is fighting his case against the government for his overdue taxes. The attorney tells him that being declared mad is actually good for the case. When Ismael objects, the attorney reminds him that he has been defaulting on his payments to everybody, including him (the attorney) and his wife Nora. Only at this point it becomes clear that Ismael is Nora's second husband. The attorney is a drug addict and convinces Ismael to steal medicines from the hospital's pharmacy.

Nora has an important business meeting back home and needs someone to take care of Elias. She tries to locate Ismael, and she frantically tries to arrange a flight or train back home.

At the mental asylum Ismael flirts with a cute nurse and then with a girl, Aurielle, who has been taken in after trying to commit suicide for the fifth time. Nora arrives at the asylum and asks Ismael not only to take care of Elias but to adopt him: Elias always loved Ismael whereas he dislikes Jean-Jacques. She tells Ismael that Jean-Jacques does not mean much to her, that Jean-Jacques does drugs and little else. Ismael is a bit jealous. Nora flies back to her father's town. Ismael smokes pot with Aurielle.

Nora finds an old man rummaging through her father's papers. He's Virag, the publisher, who has brought him the proofs of the new book and now desperately needs the writer's last texts.

Ismael steals pills from the pharmacy for Aurielle, but then backs off when she offers to pay him with sex, and she looks disappointed.

Nora imagines that her father gets up from the bed and walks into his home's office to correct the proofs of the book. Then she remembers what happened the night that Pierre died. He was reading poetry in a pub and came home late. They argued and she refused to let him in. Then she imagines what she told the police, and we see Pierre who kills himself. But then a flashback shows her father telling Nora that he cleaned up her fingerprints from the gun and advising her to tell the police that Pierre committed suicide.

Nora's dead dies and the nurse tells the police that Nora helped him die, i.e. she pulled the plug that kept him alive (Nora could not stand seeing him suffer so much and he had indicated to her that he wanted to die). Nora returns to the mental asylum and confesses to Ismael that she killed Pierre. The female director of the asylum finally allows Ismael to leave. Before leaving he kisses (or imagines to kiss) passionately Aurielle. Outside the attorney is waiting for him and informs him that the government seizes all his belongings. Ismael confronts her sister Elizabeth hoping to get a retraction from her, i.e. a declaration that he is not mad. Elizabeth tells him that it wasn't her idea to send him to the asylum but his friend and leader of the quartet Christian. Ismael then confronts Christian and Christian coldly admits that he did what he could to destroy Ismael's life because he wanted Nora. Christian candidly tells him how much he always hated him.

Chloe finally arrives and gets mad at Nora for not waiting for her before pulling the plug: Nora did not give her a chance to see her father one last time. Nora reads the proofs that her father never managed to revise. In the new book her father reveals how much he hates her, how cruel and selfish she has always been, how much he hoped that she would die and not him. She tears the pages that talks about her and then chats with Chloe like nothing happened.

Ismael asks his father to sign the adoption papers in his convenience store. While they are talking, three punks walk in, pull out guns and demand money. Ismael's old dad coldly and calmly walks towards them, grabs a metal bar and confronts them. Ismael is terrified but his dad has obviously done it before. The old man eventually disarms all three and kicks them out. Ismael's parents summon all their children to discuss a family matter: adopting not Elias but a cousin who has always been part of their family. Elizabeth resents the idea but Ismael consents.

Nora is back at Jean-Jacques luxurious villa. They are throwing an engagement party and she burns the pages that she tore from her father's book. Ismael works in a new ensemble, and the male nurse who got injured by him comes to check out the recording session. He also brings Ismael news of the heartbroken Aurielle, who is about to be dismissed. Virag the publisher shows up at the villa to pick up the proofs and realizes that Nora destroyed some of the pages.

Ismael, homeless, sleeps in his car. He shows up drunk or stoned at Aurielle's place during a party and they have wild sex.

Ismael takes Elias to a museum and gives him a long lecture on life. He explains why he has decided not to adopt him.

Nora is conscious that she only loved four men (not her new husband) and killed two of them (Pierre and her father) but she is now happy because she can now enjoy her rich life. (It is not clear if she already knows that Ismael has decided not to adopt Elias).

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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