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You see, the past isn't just what has vanished. No, it's what belongs to us.
DVD ReviewWhatever you may think, the past plays an ever present role in our lives; in Arnaud Desplechin's Kings and Queen (Rois et reine), we see the ways in which past actions impact the lives of a former couple, one in generally comedic ways, and the other in a darker fashion. Desplechin has remarked that he wanted to make a melodrama in the old Hollywood style, and while it's not really so over the top as that, it does hit the viewer squarely in terms of emotional impact. That darker half is leavened by the comedic half, which tracks material that could be similarly dark but for the characters involved. The end result is an absorbing if perhaps slightly overlong (at 150 minutes) film that will reward multiple viewings.
The first half of our couple is Nora (Emmanuelle Devos), an art gallery manager whose world is thrown into turmoil with the discovery of a terminal illness in her father Louis (Maurice Garrel), a distinguished writer. Thrown into the mix are her young son Elias (Valentin Lelong) and her troubled sister Chloe (Nathalie Boutefeu). Louis' impending death from cancer brings to the fore a slew of memories about the men in Nora's life, the kings of the title. It also brings about a shocking revelation from Louis that leaves Nora to reassess her life. The other half is about Ismael (Mathieu Almaric), a viola player in a string quartet. At the start of his tale, he is forcibly committed to a mental hospital for some relaxing quiet time, where he discovers that an unknown individual is behind the committal. While his pill-popping lawyer (Hippolyte Girardot) works to settle both Ismael's massive tax debt and figure out how to get him out, Ismael meets Arielle (Magalie Woch), described as "the Chinagirl" due to her study of Chinese. He and Nora come together a couple times in the film, as their stories intertwine and eventually part.
The film has and will no doubt continue to split viewers; I can see some being put off by the style and nature of the storytelling, and that's fine. The characters are not exactly wonderful people either; Nora is arrogant and occasionally obnoxious; Ismael is much the same, albeit for comic effect, which makes him more enjoyable to watch if nothing else. In Devos' hands, Nora proves a slippery character to try and get a grip on, as she proves less than reliable when discussing her past. Her father's revelation near the end of the film forces us to reconsider what we have already seen from them. Ismael's story is more one of the forces allayed against him, rather than, in Nora's case, of what she has done to others. His relationship with Nora's son Elias provides the film with a satisfying final scene to tie things up, at least in a dramatic sense. The characters' stories will go on, for good and bad.
Both leads shine in what are plum roles for any actor, and the supporting cast does generally good work as well, though Catherine Deneuve is wasted in a small role as a psychiatrist. As I mentioned above, the film will reward multiple viewings, stuffed as it is with almost too much material for one film. Some of it doesn't always work, but it's never less than interesting to watch. If you want something far more ambitious than the run of the mill product Hollywood keeps cranking out, I'd certainly encourage giving this film a try. It may infuriate or enthrall (or do both) in equal mesaures, but it will give whatever you're willing to take from it.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: As a recent film, this should look good, and it generally does, with a reasonably clean and sharp image, presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The French Dolby 5.1 track is, like the image quality, clean and crisp. The movie doesn't feature a soundtrack that requires something amazing, and the track here is subsequently suitable to that.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: Though there isn't anything here that would merit multiple viewings, there is still interesting material here. First is an interview with Desplechin (29m:21s), in which critic Kent Jones questions the director on the film and his general filmmaking philosophies. It's casual and provides some good material about the film. Optional English subtitles are included. The next interview features Mathieu Almaric and Hippolyte Girardot (00h:19m:08s), filmed as they walk around an unnamed city. They (mainly Almaric) talk about Desplechin's working style on set, and their characters. It's interesting stuff, and more in depth than you normally see. The final two interviews feature real life professionals talking about the issues raised in the film; in the first, attorney Sylvie Welsch (08m:31s) goes through the different legal issues mentioned in the film, and how much they are based on actual law and where Desplechin changed things to suit the film. A different approach, and Welsch keeps it interesting without getting too heavy into legal jargon. The other interviewee is psychiatrist Vincent Gaulin (06m:14s), who talks about the treatment Ismael receives and how it was portrayed in the film versus real treatment procedure. Again, quite interesting, and Gaulin keeps it to the point and free of pedantry. The film's trailer wraps things up.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsAn deeply absorbing film, Kings and Queen revels in drama and comedy in equal measure in showing how the past is never truly gone. Koch Lorber's DVD is a fine presentation of the film with solid extras.
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