When Kings and Queen introduces us to Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) she appears to be the perfect woman. She’s beautiful, smart, engaging, sexy for a mom, and has an interesting job. We learn she was widowed young, during a pregnancy, and by all appearances she truly loved her husband. Her son seems happy, well mannered, appropriately attached to his mother. Her life seems very good, even if stained by tragedy. Nevertheless, it’s a happy enough time. A well to do business man who seems to truly love her has asked her to marry him.
She tells us that this will be her third marriage. She speaks somewhat fondly of her second husband, Ismael (Mathieu Amalric). We begin to wonder, what kind of a man lets a woman like Nora get away?
We think we learn the answer when we meet Ismael, an artist with a troubled relationship with his family and a noose hanging in his apartment. He is behind on the rent, and committed to a mental hospital. It was his troubles that drove these two lovers apart. Or was it?
As we learn more about Nora, the film reveals details that suggest a certain darkness in Nora. She has a very strained relationship with her father and her sister. There are questions surrounding the death of her first husband, and the circumstances that led to her posthumous marriage to him in order to legitimize her son. She seems dismissive of her new husband to be, and she is actively trying to get Ismael to adopt her son.
I want to be clear that I liked all of these elements. I think Kings & Queen is an absolutely beautiful movie, and I admire greatly the performances of Emanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric. That said, I think Kings & Queen is just a bit too sedate for my taste. There is tension surrounding the truth about the death of Nora’s first husband and the propriety of Nora determining the fate of her ailing father and her son, but the movie lacks a sufficient antagonist for Nora. No one is trying to get at Nora’s secrets. She is simply passively letting them slip out in a beautiful, reassuring voice. As a result, Kings & Queen never finds a dramatic engine to carry it through to its finale.
Kings & Queen also seems somehow unbalanced as a film. The narrative is divided between Nora’s preparations for the wedding and her attempt to convince Ismael to adopt her son and Ismael’s romance with another patient at the middle hospital. Ismael’s plot never quite finds a reason to be in the movie. It’s very well executed, told beautifully, and acted superbly, but it doesn’t seem to be adding very much to the overall picture. Instead, Kings & Queen feels like two very separate ideas stitched together. In this way, it might be an excellent reflection of real life because all of our lives are our own stories that occasionally intersect with other peoples in interesting ways.
I liked Kings & Queen, but it’s not without its flaws. I don’t think that I will be naming it as one of the classics of this first decade.
Kings & Queen finds itself on this list because it was listed as the best film of the decade by Andrew O'Hehir of Salon. Kings & Queen appeared in two of the 37 lists consulted by meta critic.
From Out in the Void