Parallel storylines tell the current state of affairs for two ex-lovers: Nora's a single mother who comes to care for her terminally ill father; holed in up in mental ward, Ismael, a brilliant musician, plots his escape.
The Vuillard family is no stranger to physical/mental illness, loss, and banishment. But when the matriarch becomes in need of a transplant, the whole family is forced to come together, emotional baggage and all, just in time for Christmas.
Based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother, The Squid and the Whale tells the touching story of two young boys dealing with their parents' divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980s.
In the 1970s, a young transwomen, Patrick "Kitten" Braden, comes of age by leaving her Irish town for London, in part to look for her mother and in part because his gender identity is beyond the town's understanding.
The stories of Nora during a brief period when her father falls ill and of Ismaël while involuntarily committed to a mental institution for observation. Nora's in her 30s and has loved four men - her son Elias, Elias's deceased father, her own father, and Ismaël, a musician given to odd behavior with whom she lived seven years. She will soon marry a businessman. Faced with her father's death, Nora seeks out Ismaël to ask that he reconnect with Elias; a great deal else roils from her past. Ismaël has his own challenges, not the least of which are his feelings toward adopting Elias and his meeting Arielle, another patient. Ismaël's surface shows a lot; Nora's, very little. Written by
Beautifully Fascinating Deconstruction of Intersecting Families
"Kings and Queen (Rois et reine)" is a deceptively beautiful looking exploration of the differences between appearances and substance.
Our first impressions of each parallel character who seems to have no relation with any other character undergo a complete turn-around by the time we have finished circling around them in time and space at the end of the film, especially as we begin to realize they are unreliable, self-serving narrators of their own experiences.
Each person is part of a very modern blended family, both by genetics and selection, and faces the most quotidian of life cycle decisions -- life, birth, marriage, paying bills, parent/child responsibilities, Laingian sanity and particularly death -- and makes a different choice how to handle them, whether active or passive, peremptorily or as fate.
But each choice leads them to the next unexpected plateau of choices with guilt hanging on each move. For each, doing the right thing means something completely different as each responds differently to an emotional and physical crisis.
Though psychoanalysis is drolly mocked as just another philosophy, each character may be eccentric or seriously crazy and undergoes Freudian traumatizations by family in casually cruel ways that alternate between funny and shocking (and sometimes absurd).
Director/co-writer Arnaud Desplechin revels in the diversity of his characters, so that as their orbits collide they can hardly communicate because their frames of reference are so different.
The acting brilliantly matches the unexpected revelations that flash back to let us know how each character got to be this person and the transformations to where they are going. Emmanuelle Devos as "Nora" lusciously fills the screen even as we find that her nonchalant beauty masks the devastation she leaves in her wake as it helps her use others for her selfish needs.
Desplechin has frequently cited Woody Allen as an influence (and "Seinfeld"), and Mathieu Amalric's Ismaël is a tribute to that talkative, intellectual Jewish persona and Philip Roth is mentioned as well, though this character is much more up on hip pop music and surprisingly matures as he gains far more humanity than his New York inspirations.
The film is long and slow, but curiosity about how each character got to where the film started is involving.
It's impossible to keep up with all the erudite references to poetry (Desplechin says the title comes from a chess metaphor in a French poem: "King without kingdom/ Queen without a scene/ Castle broken/ Bishop betrayed/ Fool as a brave man"), literature, mythology, art, music and film ("Moon River" seems to be used frequently these days).
Eric Gautier's cinematography is sensual and is particularly dreamy when an awful event occurs.
The production design creates illustrative environments for each person and family, as every object around each character has ironic counterpoint to the dialog.
The soundtrack eclectically extends from electronica to klezmer to hip hop to singer/songwriters Paul Weller and Randy Newman to classical and more that reflect the characters' psychological mise en scenes.
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