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France 2004
Directed by
Jacques Audiard
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

The Beat That My Heart Skipped

Synopsis:Tom (Romain Duris) is a Parisian real estate agent. His business involves him in lots of shonky deals with his father (Neils Arestrup) who has few scruples, and his equally questionable business partners. Tom’s deceased mother however had been a concert pianist and when he accidentally meets an old music colleague of hers, he starts to believe that he could once more pursue his dream of being a professional musician.

This film is a French remake of a late '70s indie American Mafia film called Fingers which starred Harvey Keitel in the lead role. Director Audiard has transposed his remake to the world of stand-over men and con merchants in the sordid side of the real estate business.

Polarities and contrasts are intrinsic to the look and theme of this film. The opening scene is a short monologue, in which Tom’s colleague speaks to Tom about his feelings for and loyalty to an aging father. The stillness is suddenly overridden by blurred passing lights and deafening music and we are taken on a ride with the property guys as they plant a sackful of rats in an apartment block.

At other times Tom and his mates resort to violent stand-over tactics, and yet this side of Tom’s nature is regularly juxtaposed with the gentle side that is more aligned with his mother the source of the caring and obligation he feels for his rather unpleasant father. Music is used effectively to underscore this: the blasting techno style that Tom listens to is contrasted with the gentler regular geometric music he battles with in his piano practice. Similarly, use is made in some scenes of available lighting to give that grimy feel to the sordid side of Tom’s life, whilst the scenes in Miao Lin’s apartment are light and bright.

His piano coach Miao-Lin (Linh Dan Phan) is a delicate Asian woman whose methods are the total opposite to Tom’s. Under her guidance he gives expression to the contrasting side of his nature, although there remains an emotional remove in much of what he does. He initially strives to play the music correctly, rather than with feeling, yet in a remarkably emotional scene in which he looks at old family photos, it emerges in his playing.

The film is a showcase for Duris who redefines the word intensity. He is rarely out of shot throughout the film which is a heavy burden on an actor, and he rises to the occasion in a way that rivets us to his every move.

The song over the final credits – A Monkey on My Back encapsulates the bottom line of this film – how much is ingrained in a person’s nature that will always influence what they can and can’t achieve in life and what is the role of nature as opposed to nurture? To the film’s credit, there are no easy answers.




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