On paper, Mon Roi sounds like the simplest of films. A woman meets a man, and they fall in love. They fight a lot, but chemistry keeps them together. They marry and have a child, but divorce because his lifestyle is not adaptable to fatherhood. They continue to see each other over the years, still attracted to one another yet unable to start afresh. A layer of complexity is added by the fact that we experience all this through Tony’s (Emmanuelle Bercot) flashbacks as she recovers from a skiing accident at a seaside rehabilitation centre, but nevertheless this is a very straightforward narrative. And although this could be a recipe for a film full of clichés, instead Mon Roi is one of the best films of the year and an impressively realistic depiction of the highs and lows of love.
Key ingredients are the naturalism of the dialogue and visual style with which actress turned director Maïwenn portrays the tiniest details of Tony and Giorgio’s (Vincent Cassel) relationship, and the free reign she gives to both stars (improvisation was strongly encouraged) resulting in two of the most magnetic and spontaneous performances in recent memory. Cassel and Bercot are exceptional, the former a volatile mixture of physical virility and charming vulnerability, the latter a strong but stubborn woman determined not to let her last chance at having a family slip, despite Giorgio’s numerous flaws. The visual style is close, confrontational and full of colour; constant close-ups bring out every grain of emotion, while the always-moving camera epitomises the mélange of joy and instability that makes the couple’s relationship so destructively compelling. There is an irresistible warmth and dynamism to the way Mon Roi is shot that simply draws one in.
The time Tony spends at the rehabilitation centre has a different yet entirely welcome atmosphere that balances the intensity of her recollections. Upon arrival, Tony’s supervisor tells her that the knee is all about “bending and letting go” and that injury to it implies an inability to “get beyond something in one’s life”. While a little – as the supervisor herself admits – “pop psychology”, the analogy signals to the viewer that Tony’s period of healing is just as much about psychology as it is about physiology. Unlike her dysfunctional relationship, Tony is unable to ignore or push through her damaged knee – although at one point she tries, setting back her recovery several months. Limping along with a crutch and needing help to shower and dress, Tony’s physical vulnerability is captured in a way her emotional vulnerabilities cannot be.
The static visuals and sanitised colours of these scenes contrast sharply with the high energy of those between the two lovers, but they provide some much-needed refuge. This is especially true of the peaceful underwater shots of Tony reconditioning her knee in the pool, in which the outside world is muted and slowed down for a moment, for both character and audience. Ultimately, although in some sense Tony comes to terms with her past, she is never really able to give it a definite meaning or conclude it with a full stop. While some might find this unsatisfying, Mon Roi is a film that is content to avoid drawing neat conclusions in order to depict the harsh reality that, no matter how hard they try, people who love each other are not always compatible.
Maximilian Von Thun | @M3Yoshioka