THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED
(De battre mon coeur s'est arête) B+
France (108 mi) 2005 d: Jacques Audiard
There’s a monkey on my back
A French update on James Toback’s 1978 debut film FINGERS, a film considered by Jonathan Rosenbaum as little more than “macho braggadocio,” however, the hyper-kinetic style alone in this updated version rocks, mixing the in-your-face, cinéma vérité, hand-held camera work of Stéphane Fontaine with the immediacy of French New Wave quick cut editing, where the attention span is a mere few seconds, creating a nervous tension in the way the film is presented that matches the mood of the lead character, Romain Duris, who could be the poster child for the word angst, a sensitive thug who plays techno-rock on his headset, thumping away with his fingers to the beat, including the wrenching sounds of The Kills “Monkey 23” The Kills - Monkey 23 - YouTube (3:02). He’s the son of a deceased classical pianist and an overweight, over-indulgent slumlord father, Niels Arestup, who could be a stand-in for Toback, whose mannerisms resemble late Brando. He takes care of the dirty family business for Dad, retrieving, by any means necessary, the hard to collect overdue rent, usually through an improvisational violent assault that includes a near death experience. He collaborates with a couple other dirtbags-in-suits who specialize in get rich quick real estate schemes, also including a mix of Mafioso-style legalese and plenty of muscle, stopping to have an affair with the alluring wife (Aure Atika) of one of his best friends, who he usually sees when he brings his friend home drunk, making sure the Toback influenced sex and violence explode off the screen.
Duris, however, has another interest on the side—his continued interest in being a classical pianist, which leads him to an audition later in the month, which requires intensive training. He hires a recent émigré from China (Linh Dan Pham) who speaks Chinese, Vietnamese, and a little English, but no French. Perfect. Their scenes together are among the best in the entire film, as he has an explosive temper that he has to keep under wraps, and achieving an emotionally controlled pianistic perfection is no easy feat. Their communication together, each speaking their own language or watching their body language or hearing their quiet silences, is a revelation in this film that features the recurring universe and behavior of thugs. The contradiction here is too apparent, as he uses his hands to bash people’s skulls in, yet they’re also required to obtain a musical state of grace. It was impossible not to think of what happened to Fast Eddie Felson in THE HUSTLER (1961). Duris, however, pulls this off, seemingly a bit of a psychotic, nearly always with a slight grin on his face, who shows us on more than one occasion how quickly he can think on his feet, so the internal wheels are always churning, but he also quietly and respectfully has a cup of tea with his piano teacher, revealing a calmness after the storm. The story is always a bit implausible, but the realization of a man torn between two distinctly polar opposite worlds is both internally and externally raw, edgy and well-conceived.