Thursday, August 11, 2016

Maïwenn's MY KING explores amour fou from a female viewpoint -- less crazy, more loving

The movies of French film-maker Maïwenn keep getting better and stronger. From Pardonnez-moi through All About Actresses to Polisse and now MY KING (Mon roi), she seems to have become more disciplined as she has grown more mature. Her films have always been fun -- their overwrought moments often their most enjoyable -- but in her latest she tackles the subject of amour fou with a directness and clarity that is at once sad and bracing.

The filmmaker, shown at left, has cast her two leads actors about as well as you could want. Her leading lady, Emmanuelle Bercot, who won a deserved Best Actress award at this past year's Cannes fest, is herself a fine film director (Standing Tall, On My Way, Student ServicesBackstage), while her leading man, Vincent Cassel (below), always sexy and charismatic, simply tops himself here. He's phenomenal: glowing, growing, then exploding with energy and charm beyond measure. Our king, indeed. (He actually played one in another of his recent films, Tales of Tales.)

Maïwenn's film begins with a mother named Tony (short for Marie-Antoinette: royalty is all over the place here) about to ski downhill. The next scene takes us to the office of physical therapist who offers up some holistic-sounding psycho-babble that might send some of us out the door. But mom has had a bad injury, the healing of which will take us right through to the end of the film, as she (and we) think back to earlier days and how she met and stuck with and by the guy who will become the love of her life.

The filmmaker does her back-and-forth between the past and present quite gracefully, so that we're never jarred and easily know where we are. We meet the group of injured young people with whom Tony will rehab, and we also meet the most important people in her circle as she negotiates the trying and tricky years with Georgio (Cassel).

These include her brother, who, regarding the great love of his sister's life, seems the most rational in the bunch -- and as he is played by the usually quite irrational, Louis Garrel (above), you've got to credit Maïwenn's ability to bring out surprising new layers in her actors.

What makes My King succeed especially well is that the entire viewpoint and attitude are coming to us via the character of Tony -- who is, given all that she's going through, pretty rational herself. (She is certainly more so than Georgio.) We understand her and root for her, even when her decisions are the wrong ones.

For his part Cassel simply makes his character everything Tony wants -- and more (and finally less), with such sex appeal, charm and often great good humor that there is no question why these two keep trying to make it work. Even when Georgio cannot let go of an old model-gorgeous but unhealthily-clinging girlfriend (Chrystèle Saint Louis Augustin, below, right) who seems constantly in need of his help, Tony tries to look the other way.

How things resolve themselves -- and they do -- proves bittersweet and quite real, leaving us feeling the same caring for both these characters as we've felt all along, watching them change and grow, try and fail, and now maybe even succeed. But in a different configuration.

Thanks to the director, the writers (Maïwenn and Etienne Comar) and the performers, the movie works on all kinds of levels. It will stand the test of time, I suspect, as a simultaneous love story and cautionary tale, a character study, and a look at the way the French well-to-do lived and behaved at a certain point in human history. (Were the film to have dealt with the working class or the poor, I doubt it would have been made.)

From Film Movement and running a long but never boring 124 minutes, My King opens this Friday, August 12, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Los Angeles on Friday, August 26, at Laemmle's Royal. Here in South Florida it opens in Miami at the Tower Theater, also on August 26, and in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters on Friday, September 9. Elsewhere? Absolutely. Click here and scroll down to see currently scheduled playdates, arranged alphabetically by state.

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