A Monkey on my Shoulder (A Coeur Ouvert): Film Review

Monkey - H 2012
Technical proficiency fails to redeem unconvincing tale of surgeons brought low by alcohol abuse.   

Juliette Binoche and Edgar Ramirez star in story of medics and the demon drink.

The English-language title of Marion Laine's second feature-length movie is a slang term for an addiction, in the present instance to drink. The "open heart" of the French-language title refers to the main characters' profession, which is heart surgery. So the movie is about drunks in a hospital? No, it's not. It's the story of a breakdown of a marriage pitched at a level of intensity that ultimately proves unsustainable and spills over into melodrama. A star billing of Juliette Binoche and Edgar Ramirez (who played the title role in Olivier Assayas's terrorist biopic Carlos) may draw some business but the characters are not particularly engaging and the film veers too close to ridicule to hope to gather much word of mouth.

Mila and Javier (Binoche and Ramirez) are a husband-and-wife team at the operating table, routinely repairing and stitching up hearts (their skills graphically displayed onscreen). Married for 10 years, they work hard and play hard, still passionately in love, enjoying discos, motorbikes, midnight boating trips, sex and, in Javier's case, drink (in a perhaps over-explicit metaphor, he even has a thing about chimps). The slide begins when Javier is suspended from work on account of his drink problem and Mila finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy. She gives way to his insistence that she keep the child, but the pregnancy means that they have to call off a project to relocate to South America. Then, on Javier's side, frustration and jealousy set in, and in no time at all they're shouting at each other and throwing household objects at the wall.

That's about as dramatic as it gets until Mila, approaching term, has a fall and sustains a head wound, cue for some cross-cutting between her lying unconscious on her hospital bed (where Javier waxes lyrical) and a fantasy sequence set along the Orinoco river in Venezuela.

The novel by Mathias Enard on which the film is based may have been able to carry this off but the script, penned by the director, is wholly unconvincing, having nothing to say either about the nature of alcoholism (no explanation is offered for Javier's addiction) or the hospital environment (there are makeweight roles for Hippolyte Girardot and Amandine Dewasmes as colleagues). Laine has clearly mastered the technicalities of arthouse movie-making, but there is no sense here of an individual voice or of a gift for story-telling.

Production companies: Thelma Films, Manchester Films, MK2

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Edgar Ramirez, Hippolyte Girardot, Amandine Dewasmes

Director: Marion Laine

Writer: Marion Laine, based on the novel Remonter l'Orenoque, by Mathias Enard 

Photography: Antoine Heberle

Producers: Christine Gozlan, Catherine Bozorgan

Production design: Pierre Queffelean

Editors: Luc Barnier, Mathilde Van de Moortel 

Sales: MK2

No MPAA rating

Running time: 87 minutes