The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005) Poster

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Don't miss this one (in America it's called "The Beat My Heart Skipped")
SONNYK_USA8 May 2005
Rising French director Jacques Audiard ("Read My Lips") has naturally relocated James Toback's "Fingers" from New York City to Paris. He's also modified the Mafioso's in the original by creating a tight gang of 'real estate' brokers (brokers that break windows, dump rats, etc. to move squatters off their properties).

Basic plot line involves a young man, 'Tom', who is very much caught up in 'the life' of being a thug like his father. He pals around with his two partners and they work hard by day and party harder at night (usually ending with a barfight). Then one day he spots his deceased mother's old music agent who offers him an audition in gratitude (Tom's mother was a professional concert pianist).

What follows is an intriguing and humorous plot line as Tom takes on a piano coach (from Beijing no less) and tries to regain his affinity with the piano almost ten years after he'd stopped playing.

Extremely well-acted film with Romain Duris (as 'Tom') offering up one of those rare performances that's absolutely mesmerizing (most USA audiences will remember him from "L'Auberge espagnole" - another French film worth your time!).
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Riveting, first-class film-making
George Mpoukatsas4 October 2005
The "The Beat that my heart skipped" is an immaculately crafted and relentlessly gripping film. Its existential premise (a dodgy estate broker feels a sudden urge to rekindle his long abandoned passion for piano-playing whose rarefied world comes in contrast with his everyday life and seedy activities) is rooted in the world of film-noir. The escalating conflict between his "duties" and his lofty aspirations is unerringly captured while maintaining an eye for subtle but telling characterization of the supporting characters. Through his inner turmoil, the main drama materializes and the theme of unfulfilled potential due to a multiplicity of factors not always within somebody's control poignantly emerges.

Jacques Audiard, not the most famous but certainly one of the most talented french directors of the last ten years, has remarkably transcribed the mythology and some of the most eminent film-noir themes onto the modern era. The framing, lighting, music (especially its juxtaposition), mood and plot development are spot-on while the main performance my Romain Duris is career defining. The film stands out as one of the best modern neo-noir -a film with a rather singular style, akin to the director's equally commendable previous works.
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This movie doesn't skip a beat
Chris Knipp15 July 2005
The premise is far-fetched but simple. Approaching thirty, Tom Seyre (Romain Duris) is working hard as an enforcer and violent rent collector for his dad, a scumbag real estate tycoon (Niels Arestrup). But a chance encounter starts him thinking he might be the talented concert pianist he once dreamed of, in the image of his late mother. Without stopping his usual work he tries to prepare an audition.

Based on a flop more admired in France than the US, James Toback's 70's Harvey Keitel vehicle about a violent would-be pianist, "Fingers," this compulsively watchable, thrillingly accomplished new movie by Jacques Audiard ("De Battre mon cœur s'est arrêté", still showing in Paris as it opens here) echoes his previous compellingly offbeat "Read My Lips" in grafting together two separate moral universes. Read My Lips depicted the odd alliance of a firecracker ex-con (Vincent Cassel) and a mild-mannered but angry hearing-impaired office worker (Emmanuelle Devos). It was an intriguing piece -- but seems low energy in retrospect compared to this. Audiard has made a powerful actors' movie in which Duris blooms, a powerful actor now, playing in effect both the Cassel and the Devos parts and acting out the resulting implosion of violence and frustrated artistic passion with astonishing zest. It's hard to believe he was the tame college student narrator of Klapich's "L'Auberge espagnole" three years ago.

Duris as Tom is good-looking but vaguely burnt-out, his eyes a bit crazy, his hair neatly coifed, his jaw firm, has mouth a smiling snarl. The camera is on that square jaw every minute. Uniformed in boots, smart pants, tie and trim leather jacket, he's an elegant young hoodlum who can switch to a dark suit for a real estate hearing or audition, or wipe the blood off his cuff to enter a café or concert hall. He's angry all the time but brings vibrant energy to both of his conflicting lives. Tom finds a beautiful long-haired young master pianist called Miao Lin (Linh Dan Pham) to coach him in piano. These encounters with the keyboard he approaches like a prize fighter going at a punching bag. If he's an artist it's the hairy-chested, coiled, macho kind. How can you teach anybody pianistic excellence? The impossibility of the process is signaled by the teacher's speaking no French. She harangues Tom in Vietnamese, or just says in English over and over, "again" Or "no." Or "no smoking allowed." A cup of tea in the kitchen at end of session. Tom goes at the same piece over and over, a Bach Toccata. This relationship is an "oasis of calm" in Tom's otherwise 'loca' 'vida' -- the contrasts in such a piece as this are telegraphed without much subtlety -- but the unconventionality of the pair helps the scenes to avoid cliché. And the intensity is just as focused in these quiet moments.

There are other strong relationships. Tom isn't isolated; he works with partners, one of whom uses him to hide his two-timing from his wife. Arestrup, who looks like a French version of late Brando, is superb as the blowsy, burnt out father, a big sensualist, an irresistible presence, always smoking drinking and eating, soft but nasty, irritating but impossible for Tom not to love and protect. Tom pursues Minskov (Anton Yakovlev), a Russian Mafioso his dad has tangled with, and winds up sleeping with Minskov's French girlfriend as well as somebody else's wife. Every encounter he has is reckless and intense. Duris doesn't fail us in any of this. Emmanuelle Devos is his dad's new girlfriend, whom Tom first calls a whore and rejects and then wants to hire on to calm things on the home front. Where's it all going to end? Despite all that's going on, as one French critic said, "there's no fat" in this picture. The pushes and pulls of the hero's dilemma make for fabulously kinetic editing and the action never goes soft. A final sequel resolves things. Some say it's milder than the American version, but that's overlooking the visceral punch of the action throughout. The dialogue underlines that just as in Read My Lips, people aren't communicating too well. It may be music is all that links them.

The shortcomings of such a movie are its simplifications. The crooked real estate life like the classical pianist life can be no more than impressionistically dabbed in. And there's an occasional danger that Romain Duris -- who studied piano for months with his pianist sister for the keyboard sequences -- may be trying too hard sometimes. Since Tom also loves electro which he listens to with big headphones in his car -- as the word is Duris himself does -- classical music maybe doesn't grab the film as wholeheartedly as it ought to. You can't expect profundity but from the sound of "Fingers," this is more accomplished film-making. It may not have as much conviction, but this is wildly entertaining. And more than that, it's a movie where everything comes together, scenario, actors, editing. Audiard, who showed us dark secret places last time, now reveals himself a virtuoso of violence and passion.
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Grace From Gracelessness
aliasanythingyouwant29 January 2006
The Beat That My Heart Skipped has the pulse of a major film, a certain energy that pulls you in, makes you interested in what it's doing. Its director, Jacques Audiard, gives one the impression that his is a big-league talent; there's a hum to his images that recalls Inarritu, without quite the same manic intensity, and for a brief moment or two puts one in mind of Scorsese, particularly GoodFellas (an early bar-fight scene recalls the dreamy, fixed-in-time feeling of some of Scorsese's violence). His lead actor, Romain Duris, has something of the young De Niro's quality of pent-up violence and greasy charm, but leavened by a more intellectual, less visceral Europeanness. Like Scorsese and De Niro in Taxi Driver, Audiard and Duris conspire to create a memorable study of a low-life seeking to emerge from the slime, though this time the low-life is armed with talent and confidence, and seems maybe capable of turning his dire situation around.

The low-life, Thomas Seyr, is a real-estate broker who's involved in all sorts of shady business deals; he and his slimy partners, Fabrice (Jonathan Zaccai) and Sami (Gilles Cohen), spend much of their time chasing squatters out of the buildings they've procured (planting rats in their room is a favorite tactic), and trying to work their way around government housing regulations (when a group of homeless come to take up residence in one of their tenements they hurriedly smash everything, rendering the rooms uninhabitable; the script seems to be taking advantage of certain sore social issues here). Thomas, a button-man who happens to sometimes work in an office, was born to this kind of work; his father, Robert (the marvelous Niels Arestrup), is also involved in less-than-legitimate enterprise, and sometimes calls upon Thomas to take care of unpleasant business (like beating people up who refuse to pay). Thomas, however, has an unexpected artistic side; his deceased mother was a concert pianist, and one day while driving around the city he encounters her old manager, Fox (Sandy Whitelaw), who encourages him to return to his study of the piano, which he has nearly given up. This awakens in Thomas some latent ambition, a desire to escape his sleazy circumstances; he re-commits himself to his art, which leads him to the door of a recent Chinese immigrant, Miao Lin (Linh Dan Pham), who tutors him, somewhat awkwardly as she speaks no French and he no Chinese. Thomas's less-than-honest life has saddled him with numerous obligations however, ones it will be difficult to leave behind.

The movie's theme is a familiar one: the impossibility of entirely escaping one's past, especially when one is still actively engaged in living the life that has caused one to have a shady past in the first place. Rather than deal with this in some abstract way, Audiard tackles the theme organically; we see what a bundle of unspent nervous energy Thomas is, and realize how his essential personality, his craziness, is the thing that really keeps him from being a pianist instead of a thug. This is not a story of fate being for or against anyone; it's not some cosmic force that keeps Thomas from leaving behind his old life but his own nature, and that of the people around him, especially his father, who is fundamentally a coward and needs Thomas to take care of things for him. Thomas's artistic endeavors are hindered by his inability to focus himself; he can't sit still for a second, and when he plays, the frustration drives him to hammer the keys like he should be able to beat a tune out of the instrument the same way he beats money out of people who owe. His personality is all jagged edges, and what he needs is to smooth them out, to reign in his impulses, his anger. This makes his introduction to Miao Lin all the more fortunate, for she has the patience of a saint, the quiet firmness needed to help tame his immature nature, to bring his fires under control. Romain Duris gives a live-wire performance as Thomas, something reminiscent of the Mean Streets De Niro, and that other great seventies sleaze-ball actor Warren Oates. He's basically an overgrown kid; he seems like his system is always pumped full of sugar (or maybe something stronger), and he has no inhibitions whatsoever which makes him a kick to be around, yet there's something doomed about him, the quality of a ticking time-bomb. Thomas might be a fun guy and a loyal friend (his loyalty is one of his failings), but you just know that sooner or later life is going to blow up in his face.

Audiard and writing partner Tonino Benacquista have smoothly transplanted the plot of James Toback's '70s cult item Fingers (which starred Harvey Keitel), and tweaked it to make it work in modern-day France. The pair seem to have an affinity for rough-edged-but-lovable characters coming under the influence of tender-but-firm women; their earlier film, Read My Lips, dealt with a similar situation, but was more straightforwardly a thriller, and didn't seem as refined either narratively or thematically as The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Audiard is a fantastically assured director, able to infuse a scene with energy without resorting to empty stylistics, and able to elicit dynamic performances that never edge into showiness. Audiard has a feel for the natural energies his actors give off; he taps into Duris's nervous charm, the nagging inadequacy of Niels Arestrup as Thomas's nuisance of a father, the radiant stillness of Linh Dan Pham as Miao Lin. This is one director who makes good movie-making seem easy, rather than making it seem hard on purpose so people will appreciate it more. Add Audiard to the list of modern directors whose next film is a must-see
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Superb human drama
Camera Obscura19 March 2007
THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (Jacques Audiard - France 2005).

It's usually the other way round, but this time the French took a shot at remaking an American film, James Toback's FINGERS (1978), which starred Harvey Keitel. And the result is excellent. This riveting human drama by Jacques Audiard features an impressive performance by Romain Duris as Tom, a 28 year-old hoodlum who seems destined to follow in his father's footsteps as a property shark working in a sleazy, barely legal twilight zone of the dodgy Parisian real-estate world. But a chance encounter with a former music teacher leads him to believe that he can become, like his mother, a concert pianist. With the help of a young virtuoso pianist, who just arrived from China, he starts preparing for a crucial audition, but soon the pressures from his former pals mount and he gets trapped between two opposite worlds. But Tom is not just a sensible artistic young man desperately trying to escape the world he lives in. He's not entirely sure he wants to leave his old life behind him. He's got a mean streak and when necessary, he takes care of some unresolved matters using whatever means he deems appropriate to take care of unwilling partners, squatters or whoever gets in the way of his (or his father's business interests), really putting the squeeze on people unwilling to cooperate.

Romain Duris injects his role with an enormous amount of vibrancy and energy. I've never seen Duris in another role before, but his character is complex, perennially nervous, strained, angry, but incredibly charming. One moment he's in leather jacket, wiping the blood of his face after a little bashing with some squatters. The next, he's in suit and tie and negotiates with real-estate moguls. The film's atmosphere is dark, moody and downbeat, but Tom's vibrant energy and aggression firmly keeps the viewer's attention. Jacques Audiard's direction is remarkable assured. He seems to know exactly what he wants to present on the screen, never showy and a keen camera eye to give the already top-notch performances maximum impact. What's so refreshing, is that the film doesn't make a big point out of the human relationships. It never becomes overly sentimental, but at the same time all these characters are real and completely believable, just incredibly vivid characterizations. Sharply written, stylish, expertly paced, directed and performed, this is definitely one to catch.

Camera Obscura --- 9/10
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Bert24 February 2005
This is an excellent film, and highly recommended. Its script is absolutely wonderful, showing the protagonist having a dark and ugly side, yet possessing the ability to express his sensitivity, as a classical pianist, through music, as he prepares for an audition with an agent. The juxtaposition of the two opposing sides of the protagonist lends the film an unexpected power and impact. It is a violent film, yet a humorous one at the same time, with great acting. De battre mon coeur is a remake of Fingers, which unfortunately I have not seen (yet). I can only hope that the French film will be released in The Netherlands as well, so I can see it again.
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simply excellent
baruch-18 July 2005
how do the French do it?? & why can't American film makers come close? this is a remake of the film "Fingers" released in the '70's directed by James Toback & starred Harvey Keitel. this remake is a beautifully told story that grabs you from the beginning & only lets go at the very satisfying end. brilliant acting by all, most notably Romain Duris. briefly, it is a study in the psychological make-up of a late 20's macho guy torn between his artistic nature inherited from his concert pianist mother & his real estate thug of a father. Duris walks/acts on a very high wire balancing the 2 sides & has the audience rooting for his desire to overcome his distaste for the seamy business he has "inherited" from his father. if 1 were to see only 1 film this summer, i would highly recommend this film.
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An interesting character study
Harry T. Yung17 December 2005
Some of us take a large portion of our DNA from the father's side, other the mother's. With 28-year-old Thomas Seyr (Romain Duris), it's a 50/50 affair. He is just as much as (maybe even more so) of a thug as his father is in his shady activities as a real estate broker, but at the same time promising material for concert pianist following his mother's footsteps. His father, over-the-hill but refusing to quit, we see considerably in the movie. His mother we never see, as she died when he was a youth, shattering his musical dreams.

The plot is not so much of a linear story, but more of a cross-sectional cuts of various aspects of Thomas' life. On the more mundane side are his business activities that alway verge on being criminal, his affair with his partner's neglected wife and his relationship with his father to whom he seems quite devoted.

More interesting is his musical pursuits, triggered by a chance encounter with his late mother's manager who remembers his talent and invites him to an audition "when he is ready". This leads to his seeking help from an accomplished pianist Miao Lin, a young women who studied in the Beijing Conservatory, just arrived in Paris, speaking no French at all and "just a little" English. (Here we see the not unusual sloppiness when an Asian aspect is covered in a "western" movie. There is absolutely no logical reason for a woman from China to be speaking Vietnamese, except for one - the actress IS Vietnamese). Anyway, the communication purely through music and gesture is very well handled.

The shooting style is quite contemporary, and leans towards using darker scenes. Interesting to note that in the two series of piano practicing scenes, it's always dark and gloomy when he plays at home, but is reasonably bright when he is at coach Miao Lin's place.

As with such non-story-oriented movies, the ending is inconclusive. But that does not matter as it is the character study that is of prime interest.
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Maybe the best French film I've seen so far this year- stylish, realistic, not for everyone...
MisterWhiplash24 July 2005
For the particular movie fan, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, is a slice of intensity, wonder, and subtlety that can only come from Europe. The director/co-writer, Jacques Audiard, has taken a film previously made by James Toback called Fingers, starring Harvey Keitel in the role now occupied by Romain Duris, and made it his own. If I had seen the original version I would make a couple of comparisons to it (at the least, for those who didn't see the original the remake makes you want to check out the original, if only for the acting appeal of Keitel). However I did think about another wonderful French film in the vein of this film- Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player.

While Truffaut's film is a little more concerned about the lead's relationship(s) with women, I felt a kind of connection between the material of the two pieces- sometimes intense, usually lyrical, tales of a person trying to find what fits more for them, the more criminal side, or the artistic side. And, much like Truffaut and his other New-Wave counterparts, Audiard successfully takes an American formula picture and forms it well into a French setting.

There are a few reasons to recommend the movie, one would be for the music, which gives repeated but specific renditions of a Bach tune. Another would be just for the technical-side, which is well-done in hand-held, neo-noir style by Stephane Fontaine. Another could even just be for how Audiard tells his story, or sometimes doesn't tell it: a couple of times mid-way through the film, I wondered if the story of this character would 'go' anywhere, which can either make or break a film of this kind. It pleasantly (or intensely) did, bringing a catharsis for a viewer by the final scenes.

But likely for most the prominent reason would be for the realistic acting, in particular by its star Duris. As I said, I can't make comparisons between a heavyweight like Keitel and Duris (whom I've never seen in a film before this), but on his own terms Duris creates his character believably. It's at times a complex character, or sometimes not- he has that kind of attitude and face where you don't know whether he's really a 'street-level' guy or more straight laced. The split that is also apparent in the character's parents, one a classic pianist who's passed on (the mother), and the other a more criminal-type of a father, also gives the film an added boost of psychological energy. The lead in this film, much like with the storytelling (or lack of it), dictates how it may turn out.

In the end, Audiard and Duris make it compelling enough for the film to be about him, his conflicts, his lusts, his music. It's a wonderful movie that seems to have passed under the radar (it's in only a few theaters around the area) amid other independent summer fare, but if you're an enthusiast of character-driven thrillers that give a bitter-sweet edge, it's a must-see.
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jotix10010 July 2005
This is a first for the French cinema, the remake of an American film, when just the opposite is what happens always. The Americans love to redo what some French director did before, with mediocre results. "The Beat that my Heart Skipped" was adapted for the screen by Jacques Audiard and Tonino Benaquesta, from the 1978 film by James Toback, an under appreciated director that deserves more credit for his work in this country. Mr. Audiard directed the French version.

As a character study of Thomas, the film somewhat succeeds in presenting his ambivalence as a petty criminal and as a frustrated pianist that is trying to regain his skill in playing the instrument. Thomas is, from all accounts, an ugly character that will engage in all kinds of under handed situations in order to make a living. Most of the motivation in Thomas' actions is driven by his loyalty to his small crook father, who is constantly nagging him to take care of the old man's criminal activities as well.

In Romain Duris, director Audiard gets a multi layered performance that is what keeps the film going. Mr. Duris, an intense actor, is the dominant figure in the movie, and perhaps the excuse for seeing the film. Nils Arestrup, as the father, has also some good moments.
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