One of those films that sort of snuck up on me is De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) (2005) – my friend and flat-mate had been suggesting for a while that I might like Jacques Audiard‘s study of a man on the brink of adulthood, who is faced with a clear choice – either following in his father’s footsteps into a life of slumlording and petty crime, or putting his God-given talent with the piano to better use. Which way will he go, do you think?
Audiard’s film, which won the 2005 BAFTA for Best Foreign Language film, is an arresting, engaging study of the price that must be paid, on both a personal and ‘professional’ level, for making the best of yourself.
The screenplay, by Audiard, Tonino Benacquista and James Toback, allows Romain Duris to shine as Thomas Seyr, whose vexed but devoted relationship with his father Robert (a great Niels Arestrup) forms the backdrop to what the 28-year-old decides he must do – leave his father’s life behind him and concentrate on his piano playing, to become a concert pianist, like his mother before him. Overseen by the diligent, demanding but gentle Miao Lin (Linh Dan Pham) who, at least at the beginning of the teacher-student relationship, doesn’t speak a word of French, music becomes the only language in which they can communicate.
As is so often the way with the better French films, it is in the details that the director excels – the conversations between Seyr Jr and senior are rich in meaning, in what is left unsaid between father and son, which makes their relationship all the more perilous, for both.
And the music, and the power it comes to hold over the lives of the key characters, is simply beautiful. Not quite a virtuoso performance, but an excellent turn.
108 mins. In French, English, Russian, Vietnamese and Mandarin.