The Beat That My Heart Skipped

2005, Movie, NR, 107 mins


Neo-noir French filmmaker Jacques Audiard's remake of James Toback's scabrous FINGERS (1978), which starred Harvey Keitel as a talented pianist caught between the dreamy allure of music and the existential thrill of bone-cracking violence, transposes the story to Paris and tames its seething craziness. Twenty-eight-year-old Tom Seyr (Romain Duris) is caught between the warring influences of his parents. To all appearances, Tom has followed firmly in the footsteps of his father, disheveled but charismatic low-level mobster Robert (Niels Arestrup). Tom and his friends Fabrice (Jonathan Zaccai) and Sami (Gilles Cohen) specialize in helping unscrupulous real-estate money men acquire Paris properties by brutalizing and intimidating tenants — whatever it takes to make them leave. Tom also dabbles in debt collection for his dad. But Tom inherited a deep love of music from his late mother, a concert pianist, and was once himself a promising student. A chance run-in with her old agent, Mr. Fox (Sandy Whitelaw), complicates Tom's life when he's offered an audition; the possibility of playing professionally forces Tom to acknowledge that he's displaced the seething energy he once poured into hammering the keys into leg breaking. Though Tom has barely played in a decade, he hurls himself into mastering J.S. Bach's difficult "Toccata in E Minor," finding a coach in accomplished Chinese pianist Miao Lin (Linh-Dan Pham), who's newly arrived in Paris and, because she barely speaks a word of French, supports herself by giving lessons. As Tom submits to the siren call of music, the rest of his life flies out of control. He picks fights with his father, calls Robert's fiancee (Emmanuelle Devos, star of Audiard's 2001 READ MY LIPS) a whore, alienates Fabrice and Sami by dragging his heels at work and begins an affair with Fabrice's vulnerable wife, Aline (Aure Atika), who's just learned that Fabrice cheats on her with depressing regularity. To top it all off, Robert asks him to recover a large sum of cash from stone-cold Russian gangster Minkov (Anton Yakovlev), who's way out of Tom's criminal league. Audiard's disciplined, realistic take on Toback's feverishly out-of-control (and not especially believable) fantasies of lurid brutality and transcendence through art produces inherently less explosive results; while his film hangs together better, it lacks FINGERS' searing, explosive vitality. Duris' jittery, defensive performance keeps the suggestion of violence close to the surface, and Stephanie Fontaine's cinematography carefully mirrors the story's dualities without seeming artificially stylized. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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