‘Beat My Heart Skipped’: thug turns pianist
September 13, 2005
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in “The Beat That My Heart Skipped.” The tree in French director Jacques Audiard’s film is Robert (Niels Arestrup), a Parisian real-estate owner who looks and acts more like a street thug, and indeed, uses tactics more suited to the latter. The apple is his son, Thomas (Romain Duris), who shares his father’s profession and professional strategies. It is the 30-ish Thomas, in fact, who enforces his father’s business deals, using such tools as crowbars, henchmen and rats. When not collecting payment from recalcitrant tenants, or forcibly removing them from the premises, Thomas pursues shady development projects with an equally brutish accomplice, Fabrice (Jonathan Zaccaï). It is in his blood.
But human apples don’t fall from a single tree. Humans, even an apparently despicable one like Thomas, are the products of two parents. Thomas’ mother may be dead and nearly forgotten; she never appears in the film, and Robert, her widower, doesn’t gush with fond memories of his dear departed. Thomas himself, while defending her before his father, doesn’t exactly pine for his mom.Still, from the grave, mother is making her DNA felt. In her time aboveground, she had been a concert pianist of some renown. Whatever latent gifts she had passed to Thomas were practically forgotten; Thomas hasn’t sat at a piano in years. But one evening, fresh off a contentious meeting with his father and his father’s young, opportunistic fiancée (Emmanuelle Devos), Thomas has a chance encounter with Mr. Fox (Sandy Whitelaw), his mother’s former manager. For whatever reason – Courtesy? Senile optimism? Instinct about Thomas’ talent? – Fox instructs Thomas to audition for him. “Don’t disappoint me,” says Fox.He doesn’t. Thomas finds a piano coach, Miao-Lin (Linh-Dan Pham), a recent immigrant from Vietnam. The two can barely communicate, but Thomas throws himself into the music in preparation for his date with Mr. Fox and, maybe, a turnabout in his life.
The curious thing, and also the attractive thing, about “The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” is how it works as a character profile. Thomas dominates the film (a remake of James Toback’s 1978 noir “Fingers,” starring Harvey Keitel as Jimmy Fingers). The camera rarely strays from him, and frequently pulls up close to his face to see the anger and conflicts there. Yet for all the intimacy, the film never reveals a perspective on this character. Is Thomas, in fact, just looking for a way out of the borderline gangster life? Does he have a consuming passion for the music he plays? Is he out to defy his father? Establish a connection to his mother? Impress his piano teacher?Thomas doesn’t talk much, apart from threats, and cries of frustration. So we don’t get much sense of his motivation out of the horse’s mouth. And director Audiard gives precious few clues about what is driving him. We get close-in observation of the behavior, but no examination of the interior. But it is enough. The mere juxtaposition of Thomas’ brutal business dealings with his dedication to the piano carries the film.Another thing we don’t get, thankfully, is the story of Thomas’ full redemption through art. His newfound direction – playing Bach’s E minor Toccata, rather than clubbing skulls – is far more attractive. But Thomas hasn’t been fully cleansed. He continues his violent ways; he even approaches the piano, and his instructor, with a palpable viciousness. He covers for Fabrice’s infidelity to his wife (Aure Atika), then compounds the situation by having his own affair with her.
By the film’s end, Thomas has taken several major steps forward as a person, shown in a series of effective scenes. But the Thomas we first met, the product of his father’s influence, is still very much a part of the makeup.”The Beat That My Heart Skipped” shows at the Wheeler Opera House though tonight at 7:30 p.m. Wellspring presents a film directed by Jacques Audiard. Produced by Pascal Caucheteux. Written by Jacques Audiard and Tonino Benacquista, based on the film “Fingers” by James Toback. Photographed by Stephanie Fontaine. Edited by Juliette Welfling. Music by Alexandre Desplat. Running time: 107 minutes. No MPAA rating (intended for mature audiences).Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org