De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté (2005)

BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED, THE (De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté)

(director/writer: Jacques Audiard; screenwriters: Tonino Benacquista/based on the film Fingers written and directed by James Toback; cinematographer: Stéphanie Fontaine; editor: Juliette Welfling; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Romain Duris (Thomas Seyr), Niels Arestrup (Robert Seyr), Linh-Dan Pham (Miao-Lin), Aure Atika (Aline), Emmanuelle Devos (Chris), Jonathan Zaccaï (Fabrice), Gilles Cohen (Sami), Anton Yakovlev (Minskov), Mélanie Laurent (Minskov’s girlfriend), Sandy Whitelaw (Mr. Fox); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pascal Caucheteux; Wellspring; 2005-France-in French with English subtitles)

“Holds up as an offbeat film by a talented filmmaker.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jacques Audiard (“A Self-Made Hero”/”Read My Lips”) is the writer-director who along with co-writer Tonino Benacquista reworked the critically acclaimed but box-office flop 1978 American cult classic by James Toback’s “Fingers” to make “The Beat That My Heart Skipped.” It’s usually the reverse, where the Americans remake a French classic. Audiard changed the setting to Paris to describe a young man torn between the thuggery of the macho dog-eat-dog real estate broker world and his classical music. It’s not necessarily better though I enjoyed it more, it adds more heft to its aesthetic sense and holds up on its own as an intense pic that reminds one of Scorsese’s Mean Streets with only a pianist added to that volatile setting. It was nominated for the Golden Bear award at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival.

Thomas (Romain Duris) is a 28-year-old real estate broker for shady Paris slumlords, who is trying to get ahead by any means possible in a position that calls for him to act as an enforcer who clears out squatters by letting rats loose and busting windows with baseball bats. His deceased mom was a concert pianist but Romain is following in the footsteps of his slumlord aging corpulent father, Robert (Neils Arestrup), who also uses Thomas to do his goon work to collect back rent owed him. The father is pictured as a petty schemer, who is like a drowning man clutching onto his son to save him for another day and another dirty deal.

A chance encounter by Thomas with his late mother’s manager, Mr. Fox (Sandy Whitelaw), gains him the opportunity of an audition, as he dreams again of making a career as a concert pianist. To get ready for the audition, after years of rust, he hooks up for piano lessons with a newly arrived Vietnamese woman, Miao-Lin (Linh-dan Pham), who speaks no French. She won a scholarship to the conservatory, and the highly charged piano lessons (trying to master a Bach toccata) become the film’s highlight. Thomas is still trapped in the world of making money, and can’t let that go completely for the piano. His crude father, whom he loves even though he’s embarrassed by his apparent decline, gets him involved in retrieving bribe money paid to a Russian gangster, Minskov (Anton Yakovlev), who failed to keep his promises about getting him a lucrative land deal and failed to return the money he received for that. There’s a thing Thomas has for this low-level macho world that he can’t let go of, where he makes plenty of money and gets plenty of women. He professes a love for his womanizing friend Fabrice’s wife Aline (Aure Atika), and they manage to get it on after she discovers her hubby’s deceptions and that she married a louse. But Thomas feels more spiritually alive when he’s in Miao-Lin’s presence in her genteel cultured world, but only despairs because he fails to master the piano and has become negligent in taking care of his business interests. Pulled by these opposite forces, Thomas is a tortured soul caught in a maelstrom of emotions. The film is all about how Thomas handles these two passions. This modern film noir character doesn’t have much time to make a decision, as he realizes time is running out for him and he must choose one over the other or else lose both of his life talents.

The film’s worth is realized by the superb acting from the ensemble cast (especially by Duris), the taut script and the deep feelings it conveyed. It’s an emotionally explosive film that attempts to get into the head of its troubled hero to see what tunes are playing there, and holds up as an offbeat film by a talented filmmaker.