Friday, June 03, 2005

Kings & Queen

Here's the film festival paradox.

On the one hand, spending a week watching films is tailor-made vacation fun-time. On the other hand, the best films at the festival are often those that are at the leading edge of cinema as an art form, going where no other film has gone before. In other words, they are demanding films that really make you work for your kicks. And to complicate things, there are few reviews to clue you in ahead of time because many of these films are brand new, the celluloid practically wet.

Last year in Toronto, after about a half-hour of Arnaud Desplechin's Kings And Queen, I was ready to throw in the towel ("what the hell is this?") but I'm so glad I didn't. It's not that the first half-hour was bad -- I just didn't get what the movie was doing.

Weeks passed, and I couldn't dislodge this maddening movie from my thoughts. And in my mind, it just got better and better with time.

Kings And Queen, which has just been released in the U.S., is a royal-size soap opera which bobs and weaves with relentless inventiveness. It turns its incredulous audience into tightrope walkers. There's no way he can keep this up, you think, and yet Desplechin does, for two-and-a-half hours. ("No more timid movies," he has declared in interviews).

All this thrilling recklessness is fine and great, but it wouldn't work without the director's compassion for his characters, which matches in size the crazy formal ambitions of this film. Desplechin, like Cassavetes, will go to the ends of the earth for his actors -- they are his most precious asset. He trusts them to keep pace as he surges forward, and they -- Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric -- oblige movingly. Not only does this film have dynamite performances, the film itself becomes a thesis about "performing".

I urge you to see it, and follow this one rule if you can: don't judge it till it's over, and even then, give it the benefit of doubt. The film, I promise, will reward in return.


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