The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005, France)
Dir: Jacques Audiard
Stars: Romain Duris, Niels Arestrup, Aure Atika and Melanie Laurent
This title was recently recommended to me and I had a chance to see it earlier this week: it’s been a while since my last foreign film (my, that sounds like a confession) and I was really in the mood for one. Little did I know that it was directed by Audiard, who did that great crime drama, “A Prophet” that I absolutely loved – use the search box in the top right to see my take on that gem!
Regardless, “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” is basically about a young man who seems to be letting his demons get the best of him; at least that’s how I saw the film… When we meet Tom, a skinny fellow in his early 20s, he is assisting a couple of other hoodlums as they creep into a Parisian slum armed only with moving satchels. I kid you not, they’re carrying big sacks that seem to be moving! It turns out the bags are full of rats, which they release into the tenament. Right away I’m into this film: I’m curious to see who this guy is, why he would ever do such a thing and if he’ll change over the course of the film. It’s a pretty great movie when you’ve got my full attention a mere 10 minutes in.
We continue to learn about Tom. He has a Father who guilts him into all kinds of petty criminal activity, like collecting bills for him. When we first meet dear old Dad, he’s excited to see Tom because he wants to introduce him to his latest girlfriend, who is about 25 years his junior. Also early in Act 1, Tom catches sight of a music producer who apparently used to work with his very talented Mom. It’s established that Mom died a while back, but through a scene in which Tom listens to her old tapes, we also understand that she had immense talent as a concert pianist. Clearly, Tom relishes these tapes and the instrument itself – he can play for sure. When the music producer suggests he try out for him, Tom hesitates, but then calls the producer’s office soon after for an appointment. As Act 1 concludes, we understand how much it means to Tom that in his difficult existence, there is this hope he has, to one day play like his Mom did. Maybe he can?
At this point we enter a piano teacher into the mix who recently moved from Beijing. In a pretty interesting story element, we see a young man overhearing Tom’s call regarding this immense opportunity he has to audition for the music producer. The young man suggests this lady and then introduces the two of them. When they first meet, Tom finds out she doesn’t speak French, which adds an interesting curve ball to their relationshi. It’s these scenes with the piano teacher coaching Tom on how to improve his technique and relax himself that really give Tom’s character an interesting “arc”. By this time in the movie, we’ve seen him pouring live rats into tenaments and then taking a baseball bat to the abodes. We’ve even seen him threaten Russian gangsters (related to another one of Dad’s requests) and sleep with one of his business associates’ wife: but it seems beneath this hardened exterior, there is a hope and drive to him. He wants nothing more than to leave an artistic mark of his own.
The last act really surprised me, that’s all I’ll say about it. Like I mentioned in my entry on Foreign Films (that’s right, I capitalized them), one of the best things about them is their “no rules” attitude. What I mean is, from watching so many American films, I feel like we have more of a structure, an assumed direction for most stories: “Heart Skipped” has many elements that defy the rules, and its ending is no exception. From a more macro standpoint, I really dug Romain Duris’ portrayal of Tom. It really reminded me of Tahar Rahim’s performance as the young convict in “A Prophet”. Clearly, I need to see more of Audiard’s work!