Sunday, 23 October 2005

The Beat That My Heart Skipped (aka De battre mon coeur s'est arrete) (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

French film about a real estate debt collector, Thomas Seyr (Romain Duris), who rediscovers his love of the piano - his dead mother's profession - which begins to encroach upon his thuggish work. His fat old father (Niels Arestrup) asks him for help collecting a debt from one of his tenants. It's a scabby business. The hard men look out of place in the respectable office they plan their deals in. Violence is their currency. Thomas covers for his buddy, who is cheating on his wife; but then gets involved with her himself. All the while he is in intense rehearsal with a young Chinese piano teacher, Miao Lin (Linh Dan Pham), who can't speak French, but somehow coaches him up to scratch for an audition in front of M. Fox, Thomas's mother's former maestro. His preparation is disrupted, however, with a last minute real estate deal and his father's problems with a tough Russian debtor.

Duris's fidgety, hyperactive performance is like a young De Niro. At the piano he is rarely relaxed, always passionate, seldom in total control. He is incongruous in both settings: cut hands at the keyboard from beating someone up on his father's behalf; aloof at work, lost in the world of his music. There is an unusual, awkward tension throughout the film. Duris is bursting with violence and energy; yet he seems to have so much promise. The shots of him practising Bach's "Toccata in E minor" are convincing. Either he is a talented mimer, or he can actually play competently himself. His hands are always moving: tapping to his electro music over headphones, tapping a never-ending cigarette, tapping out the notes of his piano piece in silence.

There are some joyous moments of comic respite: when Thomas's colleague goads him for being distracted with his piano playing, or when Thomas tells his father that he thinks his new fiancee is a whore, or when he and the Chinese piano teacher frustratedly shout at each other in mutually incomprehensible languages.

The film offers some interesting alternative points of view: what it feels like for the third party in an affair (Thomas asks his buddy's wife if she still fucks her husband); or what it's like for a dodgy roughhouse real estate dealer to evict immigrant squatters from his property like a herder of faceless cattle.

There's a coda, two years after the main plotline, in which Thomas has the opportunity to exact some fierce retribution when it seems as if he's been able to extricate himself from the struggle of his former life - a coda which at first feels out of place, but on reflection is appropriate to the fugue structure of this musical film and its fuguing Bach soundtrack.

Nugget: the unglamorous France (Paris?) of cheap restaurants, full of smoke and dirty wine glasses - yet a world in which these characters breathe.


  1. What a charming comment! Thanks ever so much for making the effort. And you're blog is so much better.