From Cannes: "Mon roi" Melodramatic but Successful

Dir. Maïwenn (Dist. TBA)—4 Stars

Focusing on the troubled marriage between an uptight lawyer and a lovable cad, "Mon Roi" tells a rather common and clichéd love story in French cinema, rooted in the deep-seated conflict between these two stock character types. Although at times overwrought with melodrama, the film ultimately presents a moving portrait of a relationship through strong performances by its two leads, Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot (the latter's film "La Tête Haute" also opened Cannes this year).

The story is presented from the perspective of Tony (Bercot) as she undergoes physical therapy after a skiing accident. We're introduced to a physically and emotionally broken character several years after the conclusion of her taxing relationship with Georgio (Cassel)—and as her therapist dubiously puts it, her physical healing process is likely to spur some level of emotional catharsis as well. Cue flashbacks.

Despite the initial weakness of this narrative device, the scenes from her past relationship are wonderfully written. From Tony and Georgio's first meeting in a nightclub to their eventual child and marriage, director and co-writer Maïwenn lulls the viewer into a trance with the unabashed optimism of the first act. Cassel and Bercot have a wonderful chemistry during these charming first scenes—but it is during the later erosion of their marriage that their dramatic skill truly shines.

The film foreshadows greater trouble ahead during Tony's pregnancy, with the party-loving Georgio often distant or preoccupied with business ventures and a suicidal ex-girlfriend. From there, the film is a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows as the two characters struggle to understand each other and their relationship, with arguments followed by reconciliation followed by even worse arguments. This is not a Hollywood romantic comedy by any means—there is no third act faux break-up that is eventually negated by an eleventh hour airport scene; rather, the entire latter half of "Mon Roi" is dominated by the painfully slow destruction of their marriage and Tony's gradual emotional breakdown. Bercot spends much of the film histrionic and in tears and it never feels unnecessary, given her character's tribulations. "Mon Roi" never ceases to draw empathy for its characters, and even in their greatest mistakes or most indulgent moments of self-pity, the actors give us a real reason to care. It is not another cheap, emotionally exploitative chick flick but a wonderful slice of life that still hits all the same buttons.


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