Thursday, November 17, 2005


This movie starts with all the style and cool and intensity of Tarantino at his best. Three young men on the prowl in Paris, wearing sharp black suits and skinny ties. They speak in slang and obscenities. They are negotiating how to split the money they'll make on a couple of deals. They listen to techno. They get out of their car at a run-down joint. Are they there to shoot someone? No. These are small time real estate brokers who will use any means necessary to close - whether that be beating up squatters or letting rats into a flat to reduce its sale value. The city is corrupt. The municipal council hands out permits to build at will. So they are corrupt. It is as simple as that. This casual and petty violence and callousness towards others seeps into their social lives. They get in brawls in bars, exploit women, and treat each other like so much trash. But it doesn't matter. They look good. They enjoy life. And yet. And yet. All is not well with our hero, Thomas Seyr. While his father is the king of corrupt realtors, his mother was a concert pianist. One day, on a whim, he chases after her manager and secures an audition. He badly wants to become a concert pianist too, but can he conquer the ties to his old friends, his business obligations and his own impatience and temper?

This is an emotionally searing movie. This is down to a superb supporting cast but most of all because of the breath-taking central performance of Romain Duris. He can be tender, vulnerable, physically frighteningl.... What can I say? It is a terrific performance. The movie also succeeds for two other reasons - one technical and one conceptual. On a technical level, while the director uses a lot of techniques to suggest a gritty urban environment - hand-held camera, extreme close up on half of the actors face while the background is out of focus - these techniques are not over-used to the point where they attract attention to themselves and detract from the story. The camerawork is not an obstacle here - we are permitted to empathise fully with Thomas. Conceptually, I think that the re-make has one key advantage over
the movie on which it was based. In the original, the erstwhile pianist was played by Harvey Keitel and was the son of a mafiosi. His conflict between being a gangster and a pianist was far more extreme and melo-dramatic. Here, the director, Jacques Audiard, avoids making Thomas' father a comic-book villain. Instead, he is small-time businessman who is corrupt in a mean and petty, but realistic way. The choices facing Thomas Seyr are now less extreme, but far more credible and, thus, engaging.

I love this film.

THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (De battre mon coeur s'est arrĂȘtĂ©) was released over the summer in France but is not yet available on DVD. It is still playing on limited release in the US, UK, Germany and Austria.

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