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After a swerve into gritty, class-spanning ensemble drama centered around child-protection cops with her last, Polisse, actor-turned-writer-director Maiwenn returns to more familiar territory with Mon Roi (My King) a domestic drama about a tempestuous marriage between two bourgeois Parisians. It’s all too easy to sneer that it’s a subject that’s been covered thousands of times before ad nauseum in French cinema. However, the director, her co-screenwriter Etienne Comar and the exceptional cast led by Emmanuelle Bercot and Vincent Cassel have an acute enough eye for the manners and mores of these archetypes to make the material feel consistently fresh and alive. The marquee names alone will ensure a solid reign at the box office for Mon Roi domestically, with strong sales offshore.
The story structure is notably less than original, one of those narratives that starts with the central character at an emotional low point and then looks back to how she got there through flashbacks. In this case we begin with thirtysomething lawyer Tony (Bercot) laid up at a rehabilitation center with a severely injured leg after a skiing accident. A therapist into hippy-dippy alternative medicine probes her about why the accident happened. Tony is at first dismissive, but clearly thinks the therapist might have a point as she muses on her long, fraught relationship with ex-husband Georgio.
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Meeting cute in a nightclub (as demonstrated in Polisse, Maiwenn has a particular gift for revealing character through the way people lose themselves in music and dance), Tony and Georgio swiftly become lovers even though he seems too good to be true. Ludicrously handsome and charismatic (for, suffice it to say, he is Vincent Cassel), Georgio is a rich restauranteur who genuinely loves all things an ideal, quasi-hipster man of a certain age should love: food, fussball, being with friends, children, and now Tony. Most importantly, he treasures Tony for the right reasons — because she’s smart, perceptive and bold, as well as beautiful. Even his pillow talk is perfect – when after their first coupling she worries her vagina is too loose because that’s what an ex of hers said, he allays her fears with smutty charm, ensuring his status as a bona fide arthouse stud muffin. Perhaps what’s really different about this film, unlike the innumerable others where someone falls in love with someone else who turns out to be bad news, is that it’s from a woman’s perspective for a change, and she’s the relatively sane one bewitched by beauty and charm.
The warning signs are there from the start. He appears to have just weaned himself off a long model-dating jag, which exacerbates Tony’s insecurity. It helps even less that his last ex, Vogue cover girl Agnes (Chrystele Saint-Louis Augustin), is still on the scene as an exceptionally needy “friend” whom he sometimes has to go comfort in the middle of the night. By the time that Tony and Georgio have wed and gotten busy enough to get her pregnant, the cracks are beginning to show. With arguments becoming more frequent, Georgio insists on taking an apartment across the street so they can have more space to themselves, a ménage similar enough to the domestic arrangements of Maiwenn’s character in Polisse to make viewers wonder if there’s not an autobiographical element at play here.
Throughout, the film intercuts between showing the wave-like fluctuations of Tony and Georgio’s relationship and the upward trajectory of her progress at rehab. There, once she gets over the worst of the pain and self-pity, she starts to improve steadily both emotionally and physically, and makes friends with the other patients, all young men ten or so years younger than her from an assortment of ethnic backgrounds. As the banter flows, once again demonstrating the director’s gift for working with ensembles and ensuring the dialogue has maximal naturalness, it becomes clear that this generation of young men has a healthier attitude toward women, and don’t feel the same need to conquer and control that Georgio does.
Nevertheless, despite some nifty match cuts from Simon Jacquet to create visual harmony between the two timelines, the present tense storyline lacks drama. Overall, with one too many montages elsewhere, the whole makes for a slightly bloated 128-minute running time.
Still, it’s mostly a pleasure to spend time in these characters’ company, even Georgio who’s never presented as an out-and-out rotter. He has his own demons, and ultimately both his and Tony’s own character flaws create a perfect storm of emotional self-destruction just as their compatible qualities draw them together. Maiwen and Comar’s screenplay allots enough time to the secondary characters to give them shape and heft. Louis Garrel, displaying a too-rarely seen gift for comedy, stands out particularly as Tony’s smart kid brother, equipped with a top-notch emotional bullshit-detector that tells him Georgio is bad news from the off. Maiwenn’s sister Isild Le Besco has fewer lines as his girlfriend, but with her funky clothes and serene air of sweetness she supplements the group scenes well.
Sometimes the film seems at its best when it’s nailing exactly what kind of trendy, metropolitan types these people are, readable in the kind of mix of designer and vintage clothes they wear, what sort of art they put on their walls and even what sort of food they eat. When at one point Georgio recommends putting grated truffle in hot chocolate, viewers can spot in an instant exactly what kind of foodie hipster dweeb we’re dealing with here. It’s a shame poor Tony doesn’t work that out sooner.
Production companies: A Studiocanal, Les Productions du Tresor presentation
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Emmanuelle Bercot, Louis Garrel, Isild Le Besco, Chrystele Saint-Louis Augustin, Patrick Raynal, Paul Hamy, Yann Goven, Djemel Barek, Marie Guillard, Slim el Hedli, Nabil Kechouhen, Norman Thavaud, Amanda Added, Abdelghani Addala
Screenwriter:Maiwenn, Etienne Comar
Producer: Alain Attal
Executive producers: Xavier Amblard
Directors of photography: Claire Mathon
Editor: Simon Jacquet
Production designer: Dan Weill
Costume designer: Marite Coutard
Composer: Stephen Warbeck
No rating, 128 minutes
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