While speaking about his titular Queen, French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin recently stated that "When I started to write [the film], I couldnt stop thinking about those women destined for tragedy I had discovered as a child in Hitchcock movies. I recalled Rebecca and Marnie, of course, and above all Ingrid Bergman in Notorious and Under Capricorn. Women tormented by problems who manage to overcome them on their own... like sinister fairy tales." And he went on to add, "A woman, alone, finds herself by chance in something resembling a Hawthorne story: a strange town, ghosts from the past, and then... misfortune... her name is Nora." However, what separates Nora (brilliantly played by Emmanuelle Devos) from the women mentioned above is her voluptuous ego that matches her physical stature. On the other hand, her Kings dont quite have that problem. Indeed, after all, one of them is dying (father of Nora played by Maurice Garrel); one isnt old enough to figure out lifes complexities (Noras son from her first "marriage"); and one is simply crazy (Noras ex-paramour Ismal, played by Mathieu Amalric).
Kings and Queen (Rois et reine) is a dramatic epic: its big, bold, energetic, and complicated. Along with employing Scorsesian jump cuts, pans, zooms to tell his tragicomic and melodramatic tale, Desplechin infuses the film with Greek mythology, Yeats, Apollinaire, Shakespeare, hip-hop, etc. at regular intervals. (I have a feeling that if Tarantino was French, then he wouldve make something like this.) Even at 150 minutes, the film never slacks. Thats not to say, however, that there arent any tonal inconsistencies. One of the backstories involving Nora and her initial partner is also not very convincing. But what Kings and Queen offers in abundance are moments and emotions, both big and small, that are quite unique and powerful: Nora reading her fathers final letter; Ismals conversations with his psychiatrist (especially the one where he muses, "Women have no souls"); Noras son receiving a life-lesson; Ismal not being able to talk his way out of an appointment, among others.
Desplechin once famously barked: "I made my first film (La Vie des morts ) to insult my family, my second (La Sentinelle ) to insult my country, and my third (My Sex Life... or How I Got Into an Argument ) to insult my girlfriends. Whatever the case, they worked intermittently. His subsequent features, Esther Kahn (2000) and En jouant 'Dans la compagnie des hommes' (2003), were experimental in nature, but were arguably better. Kings and Queen is a tasteful amalgam of what has come before, and it promises an even brighter future for this one-of-a-kind filmmaker.
*KINGS AND QUEEN premiered at the Venice Film Festival (In-Competition) in 2004. The film was released earlier this year in the U.S. (Wellspring). It is now available on DVD.