During my viewing of French film “Mon roi”, I felt a constant urge to ask several questions to its unlucky miserable heroine throughout its two-hour running time. Madame, how can you possibly put up with this prick? Can‘t you just break up with this cad once for all? And why the hell are you still attracted to this bastard despite all those heartburns and heartbreaks you had to endure because of him?
While there are a number of raw emotional moments to showcase its two lead performers’ undeniable acting talent, “Mon roi” does not give any persuasive answer to my questions, and I found myself only watching performances on the screen without getting any clear sense of a believable human relationship to observe and reflect on. Sure, they say love is blind, but the movie fails to show anything resembling that maddening complexity of love and relationship, and I merely observed its two histrionic main characters from the distance with increasing annoyance and exasperation.
Its story is mainly told through the viewpoint of Marie-Antoinette Jézéquel (Emmanuelle Bercot), a lawyer who is usually called Tony by others around her. Because of her serious knee injury resulted from a skiing accident which happened right after the opening scene, she is sent to a rehabilitation center located in some beach town of Southern France, and now she is going to spend at least several months there as going through that grueling process of physical therapy.
Right from when Tony has an interview with her counselor, it is clear to us that not only her body but also her mind need to be healed, and the movie goes back and forth between past and present points for showing us her good and bad times with Georgio Milevski (Vincent Cassel). When she went to a nightclub along with her brother Solal (Louis Garrel) and his girlfriend, she noticed Georgio because she saw this handsome restaurateur before, and that was the beginning of their relationship. He later invited Tony and her company to his cozy modern apartment, and she enjoyed being with him more and more because, well, he was funny and charming besides being a terrific lover on the bed.
As often observing Tony’s numb face during the calm, quiet present moments at the rehabilitation center, the movie chronicles her many personal difficulties with Georgio in the past one by one. As reflected by her blatant speech on love which is weirdly inapposite considering its surrounding academic mood (Isn’t she supposed to make a rational legal argument to get good scores from her judges?), Tony decides to take a chance with him, so she marries him and then gets pregnant with their child not long after that, but it does not take long for her to confront his numerous faults popping here and there. While he may be good at making her laugh, he can be pretty callous and selfish as keeping pursuing his usual free-wheeling hedonistic lifestyle without any consideration for her or their child, and he is also not very honest about many of his serious problems including an unstable ex-girlfriend, an unspecified business trouble, and drug addiction.
Any sensible woman would leave Georgio instantly, but Tony tries to fix and maintain their relationship despite more anger and frustration accumulated inside her day by day. Although their child brings some moments of joy and happiness to her, she becomes more neurotic and exasperated as her husband remains careless and impertinent while making excuses or putting blames on her as usual, and there is a cringe-inducing moment of social embarrassment when she comes to have a drunken nervous breakdown in front of Georgio’s friends.
Finally, she decides to divorce him, but then, what do you know, she lets him hang around her. They sleep with each other although they are technically divorced, but then they clash with each other as they did many times before. This familiar pattern goes on and on, and, as we see more of her suffering from their incorrigible emotional tumults, it looks like her skiing accident was not a mere accident at all.
As shown from her previous work “Polisse” (2011), an interesting police drama film which won the Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, the director/co-writer Maïwenn knows how to make individual scenes feel natural and spontaneous with her performers, and Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot ably handle many difficult scenes between their characters. Cassel, who will be an ideal casting choice for your average horny devil if somebody ever tries a French remake of “The Witches of Eastwick” (1987), can be both seductive and despicable, and Bercot conveys well her character’s struggle with tricky matters of heart (she received the Best Actress award along with Rooney Mara in “Carol” (2015) at the Cannes Film Festival in last year).
However, their solid efforts are marred by the jarring and incoherent narrative of the screenplay by Maïwenn and her co-writer Etienne Comar. Frequently wielding Tony and Georgio from one extreme point to another, the movie does not give us much insight or understanding on how their sticky, deleterious relationship has been somehow maintained for several years, and its uneven mix of broad humor and serious drama is another distracting aspect. As they are repeatedly attracted to each other and then repelled by each other, their story feels like a sort of twisted comedy at times, but then we are slapped by shrill moments of emotional pains again and again, and I must confess that I was often at a loss about how I should respond to the movie.
The present scenes involved with Tony’s rehabilitation process do not help much either. They are depicted with commendable realism (I winced when an unfortunate incident happened during one of Tony’s difficult physical therapy sessions), but they do not add up much to the overall plot except functioning as mandatory interludes to counterbalance the past scenes. As a matter of fact, their sunny peaceful atmosphere often feels so ideal with those young, good-looking, and racially diverse male patients in the rehabilitation center that you may wonder whether Tony actually died in her accident and then goes to heaven as the compensation for her soul-crushing predicament of being stuck with her king jerk husband (The title of the movie means “My King” in French, by the way).
“Mon roi” is loosely inspired by Maïwenn’s relationship with her second ex-husband Jean-Yves Le Fur, so it is no surprise that movie reminded me particularly of Mike Nichols’s “Hearburn” (1986), an equally unsuccessful film which was inspired by its writer Nora Ephron’s tumultuous real-life relationship with her second ex-husband Carl Bernstein. I guess Maïwenn put lots of personal feelings into her story like Ephron did in that film, but, looking back on the inconclusive final scene of her movie, I think she should probably have given herself more time for a clearer and soberer perspective on her characters’ relationship – or her relationship with her ex-husband, perhaps.