Kings and Queens, 2004

In a subtly revealing scene that occurs in the first hour in Desplechin’s intelligently conceived, incisive, and immensely engaging film Kings and Queen, a woman in her late thirties named Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) stops to visit a powder room after a frantic all-night drive from Grenoble to Paris in order to check her appearance, fix her hair, and slap her cheeks in order induce color before visiting her ex-lover Ismaël (Mathieu Amalric), an affable, but neurotic musician who has been involuntary committed to a psychiatric institution. Having discovered that her father is terminally ill, Nora has decided to ask Ismaël if he would legally adopt her son Elias (Valentin Lelong) in order for him to have a legal guardian in case of her own death. The seemingly cursory episode encapsulates the carefully constructed myth of Nora – a woman whose public persona is that of self-sacrifice and figurative martyrdom – a young widow who fought the courts in order for her son Elias (Valentin Lelong) to bear his late father’s name, the devoted daughter who carefully and thoughtfully selected a fine lithograph from a private gallery that correlated to her father’s recent work as a birthday present for him, and a pragmatic mother who has seemingly embarked on a loveless, convenient relationship with a wealthy businessman in order to have stability in her life after a series of tempestuous and volatile relationships. Desplechin creates what is perhaps his most accomplished and haunting film to date, a brilliantly modulated tragicomedy that remarkably sustains his idiosyncratic, but thoughtful and vital amalgam of organic, infectious energy, humane observation, trenchant lucidity, and liberating, uninhibited vision.

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