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MON ROI (2015) review

August 22, 2016

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written by: Etienne Comar and Maïwenn
produced by: Alain Attal
directed by: Maïwenn
rated: unrated
runtime: 101 min.
U.S. release date: August 19-24, 2016 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL)

 

Broken, abusive and volatile relationships have been a cinematic tradition for many years, especially in French cinema. That’s not to say that French relationships are more problematic, just that they are more interested in delving into the details and nuances of a dissolving union, more than any other culture. “Mon Roi”, released in the U.S. as “My King”, reflects on one such toxic relationship that should’ve never started, which is easy to see from the outside. Directed by French actress Maïwenn, the film is less erotic drama (despite being marketed as such) than it is an unsettling and confounding portrait of a woman who can’t seem to escape a tumultuous relationship that anyone but her can see she needs to quit. 

On vacation, Marie-Ationette “Tony” Jézéquel  (Emmanuelle Bercot) injures her knee badly while skiing, which requires extensive physical therapy at a beachside clinic. While dealing with the challenges of recovery, the lawyer reflects on her life over the past decade as part of her treatment, going back to the day when she found love with her now ex-husband, Georgio Milevski (Vincent Cassel), a wild restaurateur she met one night at a club. Initially inseparable, Tony and Georgio embark on a wild affair that concerns and alienates her friends, resulting in a child and marriage. Instead of assembling the family she’s always wanted, Tony must work to keep her partner’s attention, as Georgio remains preoccupied with his ex-lover, former model Agnes (Chrystele Saint Louis Augustin) while immersing himself in womanizing and drugs. Distraught with what’s become of her life, Tony tries to maintain a manageable state of mind, thinking her relationship with Georgio can work.

 

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“Mon Roi” opens on a ski slope, with the camera fixed on Bercot’s Tony, who is about to go down a mountainside. She seems distracted, possibly worked up or determined to do something that may be harmful to herself. We don’t even know her yet, but something seems a little off. Did she plan on carelessly injuring herself? The counselor at the rehabilitation facility asks her to recount what happened while skiing – asking Tony to replay what transpired and pinpoint what could have caused her to wipe out? – implying that there was something psychological that caused her to fall, maybe an emotional trauma that triggering this physical injury. From there,  Maïwenn and her co-writer, Etienne Comar (who’s served as a producer on “Timbuktu” and “Of Gods and Men”), weave the physical therapy scenes of the present with Tony’s memories of her ten-year rollercoaster relationship with Georgio throughout the film, creating a cohesive parallel of struggle and recovery, both emtionally and physically.

When we Tony meet Georgio in the club, we learn that she’s met him before, but he doesn’t recall their encounter. She gazes at him on the dance floor with his friends and eventually approaches him as he exits the club. He makes it seem like he recognizes her, but we know better. To make up for it, he invites Tony, her brother Solal (Louis Garrel, in a surprisingly original supporting role) and his fiancée Babeth (Isild Le Besco, Maïwenn’s sister) for breakfast in his swanky Parisian apartment, where he cooks them all breakfast. While the other two fall asleep, Tony and Georgio connect and this is where their infatuation sparks as they soon develop a passion so great that they cannot keep their hands off each other. They’re happy and in love and it seems neither of them can see it – especially Tony – but those around them (and viewers watching “Mon Roi”) can clearly see that something’s not right.

The longer the couple are together, the more obvious it is they should be apart. Georgio is a domineering selfish hedonist, manipulating the insecure and needy Tony into submission (hence the title) and more red flags start to wave with the announcement of a baby. Even before Tony becomes pregnant, Georgio tells her he wants her to have his baby because she’s a “normal girl”,  unlike his usual harem of models. It’s during her pregnancy that his real personality begins to unfold, as his short fuse and dismissive attitude becomes more prevalent. Despite seeing him for who he really is, Tony marries the stubborn Georgio (without wedding bands to symbolize his freedom) and after a while it appears she just gives us and deals with his behavior and impulsive behavior and lies. Things get worse once their son arrives – who Georgio demands be named Simbad, despite her hesitation – which finds the supposedly intelligent woman crippled with anxiety and frustration as she becomes more and more unable to break away from a psychologically abusive spouse who openly cheats and belittles her, falling into addiction and self-loathing.

 

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“Mon Roi” is difficult to sit through, because although Maïwenn and Comar take a woman’s perspective in this volatile relationship, its like sitting in the stands as a capable swimmer slowly drowns due to fatigue. There’s just no figuring out what Tony sees in Georgio once we get beyond his debatable charm and his true colors become obvious. Why would Tony put up with his insistent involvement with Agnes and her suicidal tendencies and then even go along with a vacation where Georgio invites his ex? It all becomes a maddening and exhausting experience that goes on far too long.

In a film that relies heavily on the performances from the two leads, only one actor really makes it worth the audience’s time and that’s definitely Becort. She commits one hundred percent to exuding an impressive range of emotion and vulnerability throughout the entire film. From the moment we see her on that ski slope, through all the scenes of working through physical therapy up to her eventual resolve at the end of the film, Becort (who reminds me of Toni Colette) is simply outstanding. It’s because her performance is so great here that it’s all the more frustrating and baffling why she can’t get out of the situation her character is in.

Cassel is the problem in “Mon Roi” though. Yes, he can be charming at times, but there’s always this unhinged disposition simmering underneath the surface. His mouth says one thing, but his eyes say another. Part of that is the character he’s playing, but another part is that the role is very similar to countless despicable characters he’s played in the past. He’s an actor who seldom plays the nice guy, so Georgio is unfortunately Cassel playing Cassel. He’s good at playing a self-focused and ambivalent cad, but neither the script or Cassel offers the character anything more than what we expect out of him. We never believe him when he apologizes or when he tries to be nice, mostly because of how awful Georgio is, but also because of who’s playing him. Maybe an actor known for playing a stand-up guy, a gentleman, would’ve been someone we could believably invest in, but as it stands, Cassel winds unintentionally overshadowing the role.

I believe that such cancerous relationships like the one we see in “Mon Roi” exist, but the screenplay doesn’t give viewers enough to understand how or why this relationship happened. It could be because the story we see is all in Tony’s own recollections, but everything about their relationship seems to happen way too fast. Much of what the hysterical developments in their relationship wind up choking any natural emotional investment, making it even more difficult to translate or relate to such erratic behavior from both parties.

Probably best known for her role as Diva Plavalaguna, the blue opera singer in Luc Besson’s bugnuts sci-fi extravaganza, “The Fifth Element,” Maïwenn supposedly drew from her short-lived relationship with real estate developer Jean-Yves Le Fur – that is, after Besson dumped her for Milla Jovovich. So, clearly she has some experiences to draw from here, if only she would’ve cast someone other than the predictable Cassel and eased up on the overall suffocation of the doomed relationship.

 

mykinglove

RATING: **1/2

 

 

 

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