Kings and Queen

A highly unstable compound of melodrama and offbeat comedy that elicits more shrugs of confusion than sighs of satisfaction. Desplechin crafts two parallel storylines: In one, single mother and independent woman Nora (Devos) copes with a dying father while she herself mentally unravels, struggling to come to terms with her inadequacies as a mother, and as a daughter to her ailing father. In a bid to secure a father figure for her son, she tries to convince her ex-lover, Ismaël (Amalric) to legally adopt him, and, otherwise, goes about her life, all frayed nerves and a bat of an eye from another fit of hysterics. The second story concerns Ismaël’s antic attempts to slip through the loopholes of a government lawsuit. When he’s thrown into a mental asylum owing to his volatile behavior, he finds not only the perfect subterfuge, but a romantic entanglement with a fellow patient and an occasion for re-evaluating his role as a surrogate father to Nora’s son. After two and a half hours, one is still wondering what cohesive point Desplachin means to make other than to drive his audience crazy with one tossed-off thematic idea after another. The performances and script are scattershot, while Desplechin’s direction points to a sense of tone as assured and quirky as David O. Russell’s. Still, I’d rather watch anything by Russell than this pretentious mess — a typically French brand of pretentious mess. It keeps meaning to say something before smothering itself in a tangle of half-baked philosophical and emotional gestures.

Grade: C

Directed by: Arnaud Desplechin
Written by: Roger Bohbot, Arnaud Desplechin
Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric, Catherine Deneuve, Maurice Garrel, Nathalie Boutefeu, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Magalie Woch

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