The borders of James Toback’s fiery, absurd, and often unendurable movie universe are defined by his obsessions (pussy, classical music, pop, Dostoyevsky, scam-level crime, gambling) and by his narcissistic desire to foreground his impulses. Which makes Jacques Audiard’s retread of
Fingers— Toback’s 1978 debut and the most stirring of the man’s self-imploding projects—a perverse act of auteurship. We’re several steps removed from the scenario’s original bipolar heat, of course, leaving us wondering with
The Beat That My Heart Skipped whose monomanias these are, and why we should care.
Toback’s hero, personified in a nerve-wracking epileptic performance by Harvey Keitel, is a classical pianist obsessed with ’50s girl group pop, a rabid extrovert so pent up he’s liable to explode like a canned firework, an intense romantic who works collecting from his loan shark father’s welshers. The sleek, Rupert Everett–ine heartthrob Romain Duris attempts to fill out the role’s contradictions, which are narrowed down to taking piano lessons, listening to techno, rousting squatters from his boss’s buildings, and enduring his mini-mobster dad (Niels Arestrup). Audiard’s primary goal, it seems, was to render Toback’s espresso-jacked nuttiness cool, introverted, and romantic. The almost completely nonverbal relationship between Duris’s cool cat and the Chinese piano coach he finds (Linh-Dan Pham) feels extraneous, but it’s fascinating enough to warrant an entire, more patient movie. As it is, Duris, capable and dull, is no Keitel, 2005 is no 1978, and The Beat That My Heart Skipped is no Fingers.