Rich and strange, Arnaud Desplechin's Kings and Queen is a movie of large gestures and outsize performances. This extravagant family melodrama runs two and a half hours and never lags, so moment-to-moment enthralling are Desplechin's narrative gambits and his reckless eccentricity. Kings and Queen does not lack for conventional histrionics. As a single mother lumbered by a complicated past as well as her weathered stick of a father (Maurice Garrel), Emmanuelle Devos gets to express every emotion; her all-out performance in the role of Nora does everything but upstage co-star Mathieu Amalric's manic turn as her flamboyant ex-husband, Ismaël. As befits a soap opera, fully half of Kings and Queen takes place in the hospital. Just as Nora learns that her father is suffering from advanced cancer, two men in white coats arrive at Ismaël door. Nothing is straightforward. Narrative is akin to conspiracy—and not just because Nora turns out to be a not altogether reliable narrator. For much of the movie, plot is trumped by texture. Desplechin typically cuts from one chaotic scene to another. Highly original in his flashbacks and dream sequences, he organizes almost free-associational mood shifts and uses them to keep things off balance. The unstable continuity is further fissured by vérité jump cuts, swish pans, and unmotivated repetitions. Relationships are only gradually revealed; things are always more complicated than they initially seem. The narrative takes a few hairpin turns, sometimes on two wheels. Isma is fond of the word impedimenta—meaning the psychological baggage that keeps people from functioning as they would wish—but Desplechin appears to thrive on the structures that impede narrative progress. Kings and Queen just picks up the baggage and runs—it's terrific filmmaking.

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