My King

| January 11, 2017

No story is potentially more predictable than the romantic drama. Well, scratch that, there are stories about dogs. In both cases, you usually know what to expect. Both narratives are almost always marked by pathos, and, more than likely, they both don’t end well. In the French film, My King (now on DVD), starring Emmanuelle Bercot and Vincent Cassel, this predictability hangs over the proceedings. Charting a multi-year tempest of a relationship, My King carries that feeling of dread that is nearly synonymous with this type of film. You know the central love birds are destined to have their wings clipped.

Perhaps the only real question is whether audiences will find the main couple compelling enough to follow once they begin their downward slide. It’s difficult to ask someone to wallow in pain and misery, particularly if it is for over two hours, which My King is. This is where high-quality, innovative movie making is essential. It compensates for subject matter that, by its nature, is about as fun to experience as a root canal or colonoscopy.

My King nearly succeeds in doing this. Written and directed by Maïwenn, the film tells the dour tale of Tony (Bercot), a lawyer, and Georgio (Cassel), a restaurateur, a couple caught up in a passionate yet self-destructive love affair. The film begins with Tony experiencing a horrific skiing accident. Following her injury, she checks into a swanky, sea-side rehabilitation center to undergo intense physical therapy. As she physically heals, she flashes back to her relationship with Cassel’s Georgio. We then follow them from their wild courtship and wedding, to their stressful transition to parenthood and final demise as a couple. Maïwenn pairs this arc with scenes of Tony’s rehab, setting up interesting juxtapositions in regards to the movie’s themes and images.

Maïwenn’s film is raw and intimate, intense and emotional. It bravely grapples with the unpredictable minefield that can be a part of long-term romantic relationships, charting a course for its characters that feels real. My King exudes a sense of somber naturalism, with muted colors and stylistic restraint permeating much of the film. That said, Maïwenn still strikes the appropriate contrast between the film’s two different time periods. Director of Photography Claire Mathon keeps the camera close, opting primarily for handheld shots in the flashbacks and slightly more intricate compositions for moments in the rehabilitation clinic. Editing by Simon Jacquet also contributes to this effect, helping convey abrupt changes in time-period and mood. Finally, the sparse score by Steven Warbeck serves as an effective bridge between different sections, while also augmenting the emotional impact of key moments.

The film’s script, written by Maïwenn and Etienne Comar, is also a major reason why My King works as well as it does, communicating the ins and outs, the twists and turns of a relationship over many years and in many stages. Paired with the film’s aesthetics, the script sells you on the evolving dynamic between Georgio and Tony. Particularly noticeable is how the script profiles how a partner’s disconcerting traits, which initially feel like small annoyances, can become amplified beyond belief as a relationship progresses.

Insightful character work is at the core of this achievement, something which can be attributed to the film’s acting as much as the direction and writing. The lead actors in My King give extraordinary performances that are quite naked – both literally and emotionally. Cassel’s Georgio, whose shock of hair looks like he stuck a digit in an electrical socket, is the easier part. It’s a loud, showy role, and we’ve seen this guy before. His cock-of-the-walk attitude and raging libido of course belies that he is a vile, deeply insecure little creature. But despite this familiarity, Cassel is still a compelling presence. The actor brings striking energy to the part – and, in a way similar to real life, gradually shows the uglier nature of his character. His work expertly compliments how the script slowly unpacks Georgio’s baggage.

Bercot’s Tony is a subtler part, and the actress runs away with role. Winner of the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, Bercot imbues Tony with a sadness that is apparent from the first frames. She expands upon this throughout the film, revealing Tony to be a woman who desperately wants her relationship to work but eventually must break out of a circular pattern of self-destruction. Bercot’s performance conveys all the different facets that are a part of this journey; the elation and the passion, the anger and the anxiety, and the depression and the delusion, pour out of her with tremendous force.

Considering all that My King has going for it, it’s strange that the movie doesn’t feel more substantial. My uneducated guess is that this is due to the wealth of similarly-themed movies that have come before it. One of its major predecessors is Bergman’s 1973 opus Scenes from a Marriage, a landmark film that also chronicles volcanic marital passions. Although it precedes My King by over 40 years, Bergman’s film tackles similar themes with greater depth and novelty. It also never feels as laborious as My King does in certain sections, despite it eclipsing its runtime by over 40 minutes.

Now it isn’t fair to compare My King to Bergman’s work. I make the point, however, to suggest that Maïwenn’s film doesn’t distinguish itself from its played-out genre, despite the talent behind it. This isn’t really its fault. The romantic drama has been around probably since the inception of the art form. But there are more recent entries that have found novel approaches. Films such as Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine (2010) and Drake Doremus’s Like Crazy (2011) are two examples. Both used their respective romantic storylines to mount examinations of class, gender roles and immigration, and both are prime examples of how it is still possible to innovate. Conversely, the juxtaposition between Tony’s physical and emotional recovery in My King never completely gels, despite it producing some interesting visual transitions.

But this is not meant to imply that My King is a total failure. The film has a passion and a raw authenticity that is impossible to deny, not to mention a sensitive attention to detail that transcends its bleak and familiar subject matter. Maïwenn captures this in My King’s final scene, which conveys a truth more powerfully than other romantic dramas in recent memory. It articulates that even when a relationship ends, the love you had with someone never fully goes away.

About the Author:

Adam Mohrbacher is a freelance film critic and writer who currently lives in Denver, CO.
Filed in: Video and DVD

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