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Kings and Queen

A royal treat for film lovers

If you've been looking for a cinematic antidote to the wave of formulaic, mind-numbing summer blockbusters that are about to take over the screens at your neighborhood cineplex, and you're not of the mindset that the only thing worse than a film with subtitles is a French film with subtitles, here's your ticket: Kings and Queen, written and directed by French filmmaker and international art-house darling Arnauld Desplechin, who is arguably one of the most intriguing French writer/directors wielding a pen and camera today.

Part comedy, part drama the film opens and closes with exterior shots of a mundane Paris street and the film's heroine entering and leaving the frame in a car, set to an instrumental variation of Henri Mancini's bitter-sweet "Moon River". In between these unassuming cinematic bookends, Desplechin takes his audience on an engrossing emotional rollercoaster that merges the lighter and darker sides of life in two intersecting storylines that are rife with unforgettable antics, grave melodrama, and grotesque gestures of love and hate while stirring viewers' emotions with heart-felt views on romantic relationships, marriage, family ties, and adoption.

Kings and Queen tells the stories of two former lovers, Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) and Ishmael (Mathieu Amalric). Two years after their break-up, Nora, a successful art gallery owner, is about to get married to an influential businessman, Jean-Jacques (Olivier Rabourdin). There's only one problem -- her 10-year-old son of her first marriage, Elias (Valentin Lelong), doesn't like Jean-Jacques. So Nora decides to track down Ishmael, who developed a special bond with her son during their six-year relationship to see if he would like to adopt her son. Along the way, she has to deal with her beloved father, Louis (Maurice Garrel), who suffers from a terminal illness and her vagabond younger sister, Chloé (Natalie Boutefeu), who never calls unless she needs money to finance her drop-out lifestyle and drug habits.

In the meantime, Ishmael has a few problems of his own to sort out. A brilliant classical violinist and free spirit with unpredictable mood swings and a penchant for the eccentric, Ishmael finds himself committed to a mental institution by an anonymous third party where he challenges the clinic's steely psychiatrist in residence (Catherine Deneuve) with deliberately provocative views on gender relations, gives in to a flirty nurse therapist, and develops a bond with a suicidal patient (Magali Woch) who thinks Ishmael is her soul mate.

By the time Nora and Ishmael meet again, their lives have been turned upside down and inside out, and they are ready to face the unsettling truths that propelled them to fight their trajectories in life. Brutally frank in its emotional sweep and puzzling flirtations with disaster, and shot through the lens of an erudite filmmaker who likes to tap into the imagination of his audience with a playful disregard for Hollywood's conventions of filmmaking and an idiosyncratic approach to storytelling, Kings and Queen may not be everybody's idea of a good time at the movies. But in a cinematic landscape that is increasingly cluttered with meaningless sequels, copycats, and empty indie filmmaker visions that look like low-budget Hollywood films, Kings and Queen sparkles like an uncut diamond in a coal mine.

If you truly love movies, as you claim you do, stop wasting time (and money) standing in line for the latest indie or mainstream Hollywood fare (hyped to no end through marketing campaigns more ingenious than the films themselves) and treat yourself to Kings and Queen -- it's a royal treat indeed, as well as an inspiration to start sorting through the emotional fragments of your own life.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars