The Beat That My Heart Skipped

Cast:
Romain Duris as Tom Seyr
Niels Arestrup as Robert Seyr
Linh-Dan Pham as Miao-Lin
Aure Atika as Aline
Emmanuelle Devos as Chris
Jonathan Zaccaï as Fabrice
Gilles Cohen as Sami
Anton Yakovlev as Minskov
Melanie Laurent as Minskov’s Girlfriend

Summary:
Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips) hits another one out of the park with a gorgeous tale set in the seedier side of Paris’ real estate business, one that allows Romain Duris to fully bloom as one of France’s finer young actors.

Story:
28-year-old Tom (Romain Duris) is following in his father’s footsteps as a sleazy real estate shark, but his priorities quickly change when he meets his pianist mother’s former music agent who suggests he audition for him. Realizing that he needs to brush up on his piano skills, Tom hires a young Asian woman (Linh Dan Pham) who speaks almost no French, to help him prepare for this important audition. Tom learns that it’s not so easy getting away from the ugly and violent world, especially when he starts having an affair with his partner’s wife.

Analysis:
For his follow-up to Read My Lips, which may be one of the finest French crime films in years, Jacques Audiard set his sights on adapting James Toback’s early film “Fingers” which starred a very young Harvey Keitel.

At the center of the story is Tom, a young thug who has become involved in buying property and selling and renting it for a lot more money, while also acting as the strong arm for his father, helping to collect debts. Tom strives for more to his life, and when given an opportunity to get away from his father by following in his pianist mother’s footsteps, he decided he has to do whatever it takes to do so.

Unfortunately, neither his father or his business partner see any benefits in Tom following his dream, and things get more complicated when Tom, in the process of covering his partner’s infidelities, starts having an affair with his wife, creating more friction in his life. Tom’s relationship with is father is also quite difficult, since his father is rather condescending while also having Tom do all his dirty work. Eventually, the roles are reversed as Tom becomes overprotective of his aging father, who tends to get involved in bad deals and get over his head. Tom’s not so trusting of his father’s new fiancé, played by Audiard’s Read My Lips star Emmanuelle Devos, but when they break up, he does everything he can to get her to go back to him.

At first, it may not seem like not a lot happens in this character-driven film, and it takes some time for things to get moving into the subplot involving , but Audiard has turned Toback’s original idea into quite a fascinating character study. Tom’s story is told in a series of somewhat disjointed scenes between him and those around him–rarely do you see more than two people on screen and one of them is always Tom. His relationship with the meek but strict Asian piano teacher adds another layer to the story, as they try to communicate without using words, since neither speaks the other’s language. Watching Tom trying to straddle between these two very different lifestyles and cultures is what

It’s unlikely that this movie would have worked quite as well if not for the amazing performance by Romain Duris (L’Auberge Espagnole), who is quickly becoming France’s Tom Cruise, in the way he is able to turn his parts into such full, well-rounded human beings. Throughout the week or so in which the movie takes place, you feel there’s more to Tom’s back story then you’re being shown, but Duris never plays him like the one-dimensional thug we’re used to seeing. It’s not that Tom is immediately likeable–quite the opposite actually–but once you’re allowed to see his other side, it’s impossible not to empathize with his dreams of wanting to break away from his criminal life to become a concert pianist.

Having never seen Fingers, it’s hard to compare how Audiard handles Toback’s material or how Duris’ performance compares to that of Harvey Keitel. Certainly, setting the film in the world of French real estate gives it a very unique tone, but wisely, Audiard never takes the camera off of Duris to drive home the point that it’s all about Tom and his relationships. The rest of the supporting cast are fine, but Linh-Dan Pham is the most memorable as Duris’ platonic piano teacher, often stealing their scenes together with just a single word.

As you watch the events unfold, you always feel like something bad is going to happen to Tom, like his hand may get broken while performing his gangster duties. Sure enough, the night of his big audition, he’s dragged out late the night before to drive out a bunch of squatters, and you expect the worst. Some may scratch their heads at the decision to suddenly jump two years into the future but it gives the chance to see how Tom has progressed while also proving the adage about leopards and spots. Either way, Tom’s arc as a character may very well be one of the more riveting ones put on film this year.

The Bottom Line:
Having such a rich multi-layered character to work with, not to mention finding a highly talented actor to play him, Audiard has created the perfect follow-up to Read My Lips with this fascinating character study.

The Beat That My Heart Skipped opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

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