"Life Is Full of Surprises"
What You Need To Know:
At various times, KINGS AND QUEEN is hilarious, philosophical, romantic, bittersweet, wistful, and incredibly sad. Regrettably, the story is sometimes disjointed and unnecessarily complicated. Despite some positive moral elements, including a brief church funeral scene, the movie also contains an immoral view that excuses euthanasia, some very strong foul language, explicit nudity in two sex scenes, drug references, and only light redemptive content overall.
(RoRo, B, C, Fe, H, LLL, VV, SS, NNN, A, DD, MMM) Strong Romantic worldview, with some moral elements and positive references to God, including a funeral scene set in a Christian church, as well as feminist implication in one scene that sexism is a mental disorder, and man goes to humanist psychiatrist; at least 50 obscenities (including many “f” words) and two light profanities; man shoots himself in chest with gun, attempted armed robbery by three thugs foiled when storeowner takes away one gun and starts shooting at two other thugs after beating one thug with a bat, shots of man’s bloody broken leg bone piercing his clothes, and implied euthanasia; implied fornication, sleeping nude couple lies atop bed after implied sex, man takes off woman’s top to start sex, unmarried woman gets pregnant, brief discussion of couple’s sexual habits, and serial monogamy; full female nudity and obscured male nudity as couple lies in bed, and upper female nudity in at least two scenes; alcohol use; smoking cigarettes, couple smokes marijuana, men steal drugs from mental hospital pharmacy, and woman says she and her fiancé occasionally snort cocaine; and, very strong miscellaneous immorality such as euthanasia for terminally ill patients advocated, stealing, cohabitation, intense arguments, woman fails to get help for suicide victim who just shot himself, tax evasion, covering up evidence in a suicide, and family dysfunction.
They don’t make many French movies like KINGS AND QUEEN any more. The movie, which is about a woman, her dying father and her ex-husband, recalls the funny, philosophical, romantic, bittersweet movies of the French New Wave during the late 1950s and 1960s. Though not as compelling and brilliant as some of those earlier movies, KINGS AND QUEEN has its own provocative charms. Regrettably, the movie ultimately sides with its conflicted female protagonist, who gets away with failing to help a dying man who shot himself while yelling at her and with knowingly giving her dying father too much morphine to ease his pain, even though she has been informed her father has to be weaned off the deadly drug before he can start taking it again.
Emmanuelle Devos plays this woman, Nora. The movie opens with Nora leaving her live-in fiancé to visit her father and her young son, Elias, in Grenoble. Elias was born after his father, Pierre, died suddenly, before Nora and Pierre could marry. In Grenoble, Nora learns that her father is terminally ill.
While this is occurring, the movie switches to Nora’s ex-husband, Ismael, a classical violinist who has been committed to a mental hospital by a mysterious “third party.” Ismael is highly neurotic and in legal trouble because he owes too many back taxes.
Ismael’s drug-addicted lawyer determines that Ismael can avoid going to jail by claiming temporary insanity. Meanwhile, Nora rushes back to Paris with her son Elias to convince Ismael to adopt him. Nora tells Ismael that Elias doesn’t get along with her fiancé, her sister is irresponsible and she needs someone she can rely on to take care of little Elias in case she cannot. Despite Ismael’s personal problems, Nora feels that he is a good choice because he gets along so well with Elias.
Although the question is in doubt up until then, two scenes at the end gloss over Nora’s failure to help the suicide victim and her act of overdosing her father on morphine. The movie excuses Nora’s act to euthanize her father, because Nora learns afterwards that her father actually loathed his daughter with a passion. Nora’s father has written a secret letter to Nora for his new autobiographical book. In the letter, he recriminates with himself for doting too much on Nora, because of her beauty, and allowing her to become too prideful. He writes several sentences telling her how much he hates her egotistical pride.
Until this devastating letter, Nora had honestly thought that her father loved her. Until she reads the letter and its litany of her faults, the movie has encouraged the viewer to sympathize with Nora’s situation of having to watch her father slowly die. The letter not only shocks Nora, it also shocks the audience. It’s a great, powerful twist that makes the audience re-think the whole story they have been watching.
KINGS AND QUEEN would have been much more acceptable if it hadn’t glossed over the mercy killing of Nora’s father. The ending even plays as if Nora’s action was justified, because of her father’s intense hatred. The movie’s two final scenes of Nora try to restore sympathy for Nora, but, by then, it’s too late, especially for those with high moral standards. “Life is full of surprises,” Nora says toward the end. “I’ve loved four men and killed two.”
Yet, KINGS AND QUEEN is not just a serious drama about Nora and her relationship with her father. It’s also about her ex-husband, Ismael, and the future of her son, Elias.
Ismael’s situation with the tax people is very funny. When the mental hospital finally releases Ismael, he learns that the third party who helped commit him was one of his musical partners. When Ismael confronts the man, the man revels that, like Nora’s father, he loathes Ismael and has wanted to kick him out of their quartet for years. Later, Ismael goes to visit his own parents in the country. His elderly, heavyset father runs a small store and, in one hilarious scene, foils an attempted robbery by three thugs with guns all by himself. Cut to Ismael and his father at the gym where Ismael struggles with one machine while his elderly father lifts a big weight in rapid fashion. The director clearly loves throwing in these hilarious scenes, which recall the sudden comic moments that used to permeate the best of those old French movies mentioned above.
At the end of KINGS AND QUEEN, Ismael gives a rambling, touching speech to Elias about growing up, life and the boy’s relationships with him, his mother and his mother’s new husband. Ismael tells him that it’s not a good idea for him to adopt Elias, not only because Elias will have a new stepfather, but also because he and Elias are too much like friends rather than parent and child. Here, Ismael strongly suggests that Elias needs a real father figure, not friendship, but Ismael also tells Elias to remember that people make mistakes and everybody, including parents and children, should recognize that they can’t always be right.
Thus, the movie occasionally discloses some moral truths about the human condition within the Romantic humanism of its worldview. Even so, the movie not only contains an immoral treatment of euthanasia, it also has some very strong foul language, strong violence, explicit nudity in two sex scenes, drug references, and only light elements of redemptive content. As with most movies that don’t have a strong Christian or strong biblical worldview, KINGS AND QUEEN’s Romantic worldview is ultimately irrational, intellectually flawed, disjointed, morally problematic, and spiritually empty. Its deft handling of comedy, satire, family drama, and unique characters is admirable, however. If it were not for a couple disjointed sequences, a couple unnecessary characters and a few unnecessary complications that seem to dilute its narrative and thematic strength, KINGS AND QUEEN might deserve four stars instead of three.