Wellspring Media // 2005 // 107 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // December 19th, 2005
Your past always catches up with you.
Although it's quite common for American film studios to remake French movies, this may be one of the first times the French have remade one of ours. Director Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips) takes James Toback's gritty 1978 drama Fingers and moves it from New York's gritty streets to France's swank cafés.
Thomas Seyr (Romain Duris, Le Divorce) is a 28-year-old Parisian property shark who seems destined to follow in the footsteps of his father (Niels Arestrup), an aged slum lord. However, in a chance encounter, Thomas runs into his late mother's booking agent, who convinces him that he has the talent to become a concert pianist like her. The man offers Thomas an open-ended invitation to audition for him whenever he is ready. Thomas begins to take piano lessons in the daytime from the skittish Miao Lin (Linh Dan Pham) while continuing his life of thuggery at night. When his audition draws near, and pressures from work increase, Thomas must choose between a life of low-level crime and his chance at realizing a dream that had long lied dormant.
In an early scene of the compelling The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Thomas and his cronies walk into an apartment building carrying sacks that are squirming with movement. We don't know what's inside; it could be snakes, could be marmots, or it could be a cat. All we can tell, from the frenzied movement, is that whatever's inside is angry. Thomas and his accomplices empty the bags, which end of being full of rats, in the hallway of a low-rent apartment building. This is not a youthful indiscretion. It is Thomas' job to get the apartment's occupants to move out, by any means necessary, so that his company can purchase the building at a cheap price.
We soon learn that Thomas has gotten into the "real estate" business through his father, Robert. Robert is a low-level slumlord who looks like he may have once been an imposing figure, but is now just bloated and paunchy. Robert's tenants have sensed his weakness and stopped paying their rent. He asks his son to confront the tenants and collect the money on his behalf. Thomas agrees, but from his hesitation we can see that, unlike his father, he has no natural inclination for bloodshed.
While wandering through Paris, Thomas runs into an old acquaintance, his late mother's booking agent. Thomas' mother was a concert pianist, and her former agent is disappointed to hear that her son, who had shown his mother's aptitude for the instrument, hasn't played in years. That night Thomas dusts off his old piano and begins practicing a Bach toccata. The next day he hires a tutor, Miao Lin, a quiet Chinese pianist who speaks no French and only a few words of English. She sits silently behind Thomas while he practices until he becomes comfortable enough to allow her to sit beside him.
Initially the scenes between Miao Lin and Thomas seem to be imported from another movie. In the midst of a violent and haggard existence Thomas takes an hour out of his day to practice piano in the modest living room of a quiet, pacific piano teacher. A lesser movie would have had the two in bed by the third act (probably as a climax to the moment when Thomas first masters the toccata). Though that might offer a fleeting thrill for the audience, it would have ultimately proved unsatisfying. Late in the film there is a scene where Thomas and Miao Lin sit in her kitchen sipping tea. Thomas casually points to assorted objects in the kitchen and names them for Miao Lin in French. Though nothing of consequence transpires, but there is an unspoken familiarity and intensity and longing on display between these two characters that is poetic and beautiful. It is a rare and precious movie that captures these emotions in such an understated way. Scenes like this expose sex scenes for the lazy and tawdry gimmicks that they usually are. The Beat That My Heart Skipped has several of these scenes.
This is largely because of the Duris' confident, cocksure performance as Thomas. Like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Duris exudes such raw coolness that one could easily imagine his poster adorning college dorm rooms across the country were he to die in an untimely motorcycle accident. There is such anger and vulnerability in Thomas, and Duris is an actor who is equally convincingly, and equally cool, beating on a hapless Tunisian fry cook in one scene, and quietly lamenting over his piano in the next. Duris had a supporting part in the tepid American movie Le Divorce, but other than that, he will probably be unknown to most American audiences. Yet his performance clearly puts Hollywood's vanguard of young actors like Jake Gyllenhaal and Orlando Bloom to shame. If The Beat That My Heart Skipped was not a foreign picture, Duris would surely be getting serious recognition from critics this award season.
However, the movie is not merely a showcase for a great actor. Audiard has done a masterful job of creating a brash, nervy film that is poignant without ever being pretentious. Though The Beat That My Heart Skipped avoids being overly sentimental or uplifting, when it's over you may just find yourself standing and playing a little air piano in your living room.
Wellspring has a provided a decent transfer with a crisp, sharp picture and clear sound. There are a few perfunctory extras, but the film alone is well worth the price of this disc.
The Beat That My Heart Skipped is easily one of the best films of 2005. It might be the best. Don't let the subtitles scare you off. Watch this movie.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wellspring Media
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Theatrical Trailer
* Trailer Gallery
* Official Site