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Kings and Queen (2004)


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Has anyone else seen this? My wife and I watched it on DVD earlier this week, and found it to be a beautiful, provocative, and ambiguous film. It looks to have made several 'Best of...' lists (including Paste magazine's), but I couldn't find a thread here.

In short, it's a French film, set in Grenoble (I think) and Paris, depicting a 30-something woman and the important males in her life, namely her father, 2 former lovers, and her son. She's clearly quite ambivalent about all of these relationships, and director Desplechin is interestingly rather coy about whether she is victim, perpetrator, or both in the heartache and dysfunction of these connections.

The film's tone is alternatingly philosophical and comical - as a shrink, I especially enjoyed the scenes in the psych hospital and analyst's office, but I suspect most anyone would find them hilarious. Apparently, Desplechin has spent years in analysis himself, so the scenes here are an affectionate sendup, but a sendup nonetheless.

(hint hint...By the way, with the solid storyline, aesthetic choices, and mythological allusions on display here, this would make a great film club flick...hint hint!!)

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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That would be great, Andrew. I'd participate if this was the pick.

I'm walking wounded, in relation to this film. I was caught up in it, loving it, on DVD one night, thinking I'd found a finalist for my year's top 20.

And then I was interrupted by something at home that demanded attention.

And then the rest of the week was busy.

And then the DVD was due.

So I'm left hanging, at halfway through the film.

A Film Club focus on it would be a good excuse for me to go back and see it again, when I re-discover the joys of "spare time" in June.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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This made my top ten for 2004, and that's a pretty formidable feat considering that it was the same year that films like The World, Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow, 2046, and Los Angeles Plays Itself were also released. I've always gravitated towards Desplechin's quirky films, but before Kings and Queen, there was always something too "anarchic" or not quite right about them. This is my favorite of all his films so far, and I agree that part of it is that Emmanuelle Devos' character remains opaque throughout the film. She's essentially an amorphous mask of socially perceived "women's roles": devoted daughter, mother, wife, friend, and yet, she doesn't fit any of those molds so conveniently. I like that Desplechin doesn't try to pigenhole her either.

Edited by acquarello
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Nice coincidence. I watched Kings and Queen a couple weeks ago. I've been trying to catch up with the critically accalimed films of the last year or two that I'd missed. In fact, I'm having a little trouble remembering the details of Kings and Queen because the next day I watched The Beat that My Heart Skipped, another French film starring Emmanuelle Devos.

Kings and Queen is the only Desplechin film I've seen, and I kind of regret not knowing more about him before watching it. I'm not sure what I was expecting, exactly, but I was more than halfway through the film before finally getting a sense of what he was after. That ambiguity you mentioned, Andrew, is what makes Kings and Queen so interesting, but it also creates a strange relationship between the viewer and characters. The longer I watched, the more I realized how mistaken I'd been in trying to fit the queen and her kings into familiar narrative boxes. Know what I mean? I think I'd enjoy the film even more on a second viewing.

Isn't it interesting that in your listing of the four kings, Andrew, you don't mention Devos' current husband? I like your idea, Acquarello, of seeing her as a kind of refutation of "women's roles." ("Refutation" is probably the wrong word.) She is and is not defined by those relationships. What does it mean to be a "wife" in a sexless marriage of companionship and financial convenience? What does it mean to be "mother" to a child who she sends away to school, only seeing on weekends? What does it mean to be "daughter" to a man who holds her in such loving contempt?

Edited by Darren H
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...seeing her as a kind of refutation of "women's roles." ("Refutation" is probably the wrong word.) She is and is not defined by those relationships. What does it mean to be a "wife" in a sexless marriage of companionship and financial convenience? What does it mean to be "mother" to a child who she sends away to school, only seeing on weekends? What does it mean to be "daughter" to a man who holds her in such loving contempt?

Very nicely put, Darren. If you remember, the opening music is Moon River, and that in itself evokes a kind of impossible romanticism, much like the dichotomy between her and perceptions of her.

Desplechin's films are always "subversions" in terms of the way he likes to cross-pollinate genres, styles, and conventions, which always makes for some interesting viewing even if it's not always completely successful. For instance, he took a notoriously problemmatic play and combined it with a film-within-a-film to show how the actors struggle to shape their roles in Playing in the Company of Men. As problemmatic as I thought it was when I saw it, I'm still thinking about it to this day. All his films tend to get under your skin like that.

Amalric is a friend of Desplechin so he tends to be part of his "stock company" in one form or another. Another Desplechin/Amalric pairing worth noting is My Sex Life...or How I Got into an Argument, and I definitely recommend that one. It blows all of Assayas' ensemble relationship films out of the water. In this one, Amalric is someone who can't commit to anything, so he drags out his doctoral studies and his break up with his longtime girlfriend (Devos). It's almost a precursor to Kings and Queen. The other film I'd recommend is La Vie des morts and if you like that one, try La Sentinelle. They both have similar ideas about identity and mortality, but the former is more compact and more "direct", while the latter meanders along the way. Amalric tends to play supporting roles though, so he doesn't always get to show his range.

The film project that I'm most anxious to see is La Question Humaine. It's the latest film from Nicolas Klotz, whose La Blessure was my favorite film last year. Like Klotz, Amalric is also a very social conscious intellectual, so the pairing sounds like a match made in heaven.

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::That ambiguity you mentioned, Andrew, is what makes Kings and Queen so interesting, but it also creates a strange relationship between the viewer and characters. The longer I watched, the more I realized how mistaken I'd been in trying to fit the queen and her kings into familiar narrative boxes. Know what I mean?

I most certainly do! I woke up the morning after watching this film and had the very same thing on my mind. It's reminiscent of our Film Club discussion of 'Slacker,' isn't it? I love a film like this, that subverts my unintentional stereotyping - I need a periodic wakeup call on this.

::Isn't it interesting that in your listing of the four kings, Andrew, you don't mention Devos' current husband?

I have to admit that I swiped that from Alan Stone's excellent commentary on this film (alas, not available online), but I wholeheartedly agreed with his assessment. (He also linked the 'Nora' of this film, to the 'Nora' of Ibsen's 'A Doll's House' - has anyone read Ibsen recently enough to comment on the legitimacy of this comparison?)

::I think I'd enjoy the film even more on a second viewing.

I was kicking myself when I reflexively mailed this back to blockbuster.com; I would've liked to watch this again, too. Well, there's always Film Club... :)

And thanks, Acquarello, for the film recommendations. This film left me curious about Desplechin and Amalric's other films, so I'll be checking those out.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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  • 4 years later...

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