Kings and Queen (Rois et reine)

Kings and Queen (Rois et reine)

She is a beautiful young woman, the epitome of French elegance, as she steps out of a car in the opening sequence of the film. The air seems to be glowing around her, as if she were a young Catherine Deneuve. What follows is the "deconstruction" of Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) with the richness of a great novel. (Deneuve herself shows up later, in a small role.)

Arnaud Desplechin’s Kings and Queen is an extraordinary work with depth, suspense, startling surprises, a unique combination of perspectives. There are many movies with well-portrayed characters, and some – fewer – works (more frequently in books than on screen) that plumb "inside" the people they portray. Desplechin enables the audience to experience the connected, but almost always separately-presented dimensions, internal and external.

In this virtuoso work, Desplechin tells the story of Nora and her ex-boyfriend, Ismael (Mathieu Amalric), a mad violist (is there any other kind?), keeping them apart through almost the entire length of the film. He stays with the two (and a large, intriguing cast of characters) for two and a half hours, time that passes almost imperceptibly. The characters are seen from the outside, as well as in their thoughts, their past, their evolution/devolution. Desplechin’s brilliant writing and direction reveals them, both to themselves and to the audience, providing a new, elegant and fascinating standard for adult story-telling. For example, an illustrated narration of a wild dream is traced to a Yeats poem in an incongruous way. Yet, because it makes sense to the character, it is also perfectly satisfying to the viewer.

Kings & Queen moves smoothly back and forth in time and switches between dimensions without clear visual clues that distinguish what is "reality" from what is a character’s dream or fantasy. It demands a great deal in attention, concentration, suspension of both disbelief and beliefs. But there is nothing artsy-crafty about Desplechin’s work. It’s just a terrific movie with no wires showing, all its complexity presented without visible effort.

There is a cosmic shift from the audience’s early impressions of Nora and her father, triggered when Nora reads a stunning piece of writing by her father which reorders and reinterprets the characters and their relationships. The structure of the film flows from these elements, in a quirky but inevitable way. As in his last major film, the 1996 My Sex Life, or, How I Got Into an Argument, Desplechin dishes up both entertainment and substance to chew on in Kings and Queen.

– Janos Gereben

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Janos Gereben Born in Hungary, Janos learned English on refugee scholarship in Helena, MT, and Atchison, KS. Starting as a copy boy at the NY Herald-Tribune, he worked his way up to the copy desk, later worked for TIME-LIFE, UPI Audio, then switched coasts, published the Kona Torch, was a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and taught journalism at UH-Manoa. He received an Alicia Patterson Foundation fellowship, reported from the European political and cultural scene for a year. In the S.F. Bay Area, he worked as music editor of the San Jose Mercury-News, arts editor of the Post Newspaper Group/East Bay for 20 years, wrote about performing arts and films for the S.F, Examiner, continues writing for the S.F. Classical Voice which he joined when Robert Commanday established this first professional online publication about music and dance. He also participated in the work of CultureVulture in the publication's first years.