Friday, June 23, 2006
#25 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)
In Arnaud Desplechin's intriguing soap-opery-but-surprisingly-not-trite Kings and Queen, Emmanuelle Devos's Nora and her relationships with the several men in her life may serve as the film's main thrust, but it is Mathieu Amalric as her emotionally unstable ex that steals the show, the stage, and even the chair you're sitting on. Thrown into a mental institution on suicide watch at the behest of his frustrated sister, Ismaël argues against, pleads with and finally attacks various members of staff, completely at a loss as to why he is being held against his will. The amazing feat of Amalric's performance is he convinces us that he is the lone sane person on-screen and all the people around him are behaving irrationally and without just cause, despite the fact that his character is a very sick man. I was in gleeful stitches watching the furious, embittered Ismaël sputter and rave at his non-plussed parents, or when he tries to justify to his sister why he sent her Christmas presents in July. Amalric is also very adept at capturing his character's manic, mile-a-minute thought process, and demonstrates how his past relationships with women have utterly soured his view of the female gender. This does not stop Ismaël , however, from contemplating having a tryst with a willing, interested patient in the hospital (Amalric plays beautifully against her, weighing the pros and cons of the situation). Perpetually horny, confused and all-the-while frazzled by his present situation, Amalric is fascinating to look at as he navigates his way through the dilemma at hand. It's a high-wire, loopy exercise, but Amalric always makes sure to humanize the man, so there is no danger of caricature or chewing the scenery. This is the genius of his work; it is hysterical, intelligent comedy, but grounded in a subtle truth about heartache, betrayal and illness that is visible in his body language. His interaction with his would-be son during the film's final moments is a tender, moving scene that does not resort to mawkish sentimentality. In a picture filled top to bottom with astounding acting efforts, it may be the film's best performance.