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
Rois et Reine starts and ends with an audio feast of divinely beautiful unplugged "Moon River". In between, it offers the richest content that I remember in any film that I've seen.
Use of two parallel, initially apparently unrelated story lines is a favourite structure for movie makers. One that immediately comes to mind is Le Huitieme Jour. In Rois et Reine, one thread is Nora, a beautiful art gallery director struggling with a terminally ill father and a fatherless son Elias. The other thread is Ismael, a viola player taken into a psychiatric ward through strange circumstances. However, it does not take long (relative to the two-and-a-half-hour film) to get to the convergence point where the audience are privy to the fact that Nora and Ismael had lived together for seven years during which Nora's son developed a devoting affection for and attachment to Ismael (which, incidentally, reminds me of a similar relationship in Love Actually, in a character played by Liam Neeson).
But this is only the bare beginning. The sprawling story surrounding these two main characters commands the viewers' every attention, and this film really deserves several viewing.
I wouldn't attempt to go into all the details of the many characters, sub-plots and sub-texts. Briefly, the central story is Nora's relationships with three men, Elias's father who was shot under suspicious circumstances, Ismael who became Elias's de facto father and the man she is now going to marry but is not really certain if she truly loves or not. While those relationships are touched on lightly, some through flashbacks, her relationship with her father Louis and sister Chloe receive sharper focus, with twists and turns leading to some rather devastating revelations towards the end.
With Ismael's family (and there are quite a few members) the circumstances are very different, but equally intriguing. While there is also conflict, and this one centres around the issue of adoption and estate, the mood in one of wry humour. Family matters aside, there is also another dimension, the psychiatric ward, where Ismael interacts with no less than three psychiatrists (one played by Catherine Deneuve) as well as a women fellow-patient Arielle with whom he develops a close relationship that continues after their discharge.
And don't be mislead into thinking that quantity will compromise quality. The entire film is throbbing with energy, telling the story in so many different ways, in so many changing moods, which, however, never feels disjointed. Similarly, the deft use of background music brings you delight in every turn.
I have only touched on the bare surface of this absorbing film. Among the many fascinating aspects of the film is the development of the two main characters and a common characteristic: both are vain and arrogant. Yet, the interesting thing is that they are not portrayed in that light at all. It's through the description by other characters that this comes to light, and then we are compelled to look behind the surface to understand.
The audience will find that there are many scenes, from devastatingly emotional to hilariously noire, that they will remember long afterwards. If I were to pick a most memorable one, however, it will be the last scene, between Ismael and Elias, and I think many who have seen the film will agree. A masterful piece of auteurist work, Rois et Reine is a film that will be a crime to miss.
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