An extravagant doodle about family and mental illness, Kings and Queen is at once Arnaud Desplechin’s most straightforward and scattershot creation. A third-party request lands Ismaël (Mathieu Amalric) in a mental hospital, where the musician annoys an administrator played by Catherine Deneuve and later seduces a young suicide survivor. Meanwhile, a single mother, Nora (a fabulously self-destructing Emmanuelle Devos), learns that her father is dying of cancer. The trauma may or may not send her over the edge, because soon she’s looking for her ex-husband (Ismaël no less!) so he can adopt her young son. Loaded with comic non sequiturs, sleep-induced back story, impromptu rapping, and contextualizing allusions to Greek mythology, Kings and Queen is never boring, but it’s still less than the sum of its parts. This may be what Desplechin is going for: If dynasties were elements on the atomic chart then the characters in this free-associative exercise represent their atomic structures. Nora and Ismaël share only a number of scenes together, and though whole sequences from the film are barely connected by the occasional overlapping theme (namely adoption and paterfamilias), there’s a spastic energy to the film that’s truly invigorating. Even if you aren’t tempted to draw your own family tree, the film can still be enjoyed as something not unlike good dinner theater.
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