The Beat That My Heart Skipped

The Beat That My Heart Skipped is a French film about a man torn between his devotion and his dream. Thomas Seyr is the 28 years old adult son played by Romain Duris. On the receiving side of this son’s devotion, we have his father, Robert Seyr, played by Niels Arestrup.

Left is Niels Arestrup as Robert, and Right is Romain Duris as his son Thomas

This is a man who more than dabbles in real estate, or maybe it would be better if we said, he works on the underbelly of real estate deals. To call this man seedy, shady, and unscrupulous would be more of an understatement than the literal truth. But the son follows in his path. Not because this path is where he wants to be, but because he’s devoted to his father.

This life is not pretty – I mean how could it be? Bringing sacks full of rats into apartment buildings, then turning these rats loose to ‘encourage’ the tenants to leave,  or strong-arming squatters, or even collecting back rent from his Dad’s deadbeat tenants are not the kind of jobs anyone aspires to do. But this is what Thomas does.

On the other hand, Thomas Seyr’s mother was a skilled concert pianist. Somewhere in his youth, Thomas took piano lessons, and developed his skills quite nicely. But when the mother died, Thomas left the ebony & ivory piano keys for other pursuits like crime, and the pursuit of femmes.

Aure Atika as Aline

But on this one particular day, Thomas runs into the booking agent or manager who handled his Mother’s performances and concerts. This man, Mr. Fox, asks Thomas if he still plays the piano. If so, please look me up. ‘Audition for me‘ were the terms he used.

Thomas acquires a piano teacher. It’s not the ideal scenario. She doesn’t speak French, and Thomas doesn’t speak Chinese or Vietnamese. A date for his audition is set for the 23rd. Thomas also manages to take his best friends wife to bed.

Even when he’s pensive, you sense energy, explosive energy, is present

Everything about Thomas seems accelerated. He’s jumpy, he’s full of energy. He’s needy. More than anything else, it seems that he can’t get along with anyone. Be it his father, his piano teacher, his lover, or his friend – everything is confrontational. Thomas is always pushing back against supposed pressures. Most of the times, these are either his inner demons at work, or these are either imagined or non-existent.

That’s your set up. This is not the Paris of the postcards, or the Hollywood films, or even the Paris that I’ve visited. This Paris is dark, and depressing. There’s no sunshine in the characters or the city itself. I wonder if this film is made this way to convey darkness, and desperation.

Robert is only an older and slower version of what he once was

The film is directed by Jacques Audiard and written by Audiard and Tonino Benacquista; these are the same pair that gave us Read My Lips, which I recently reviewed here. From that film, we also have Emmanuelle Devos in this film. She plays Robert’s girl friend.

There are two other female roles of importance. Lin Dan Pham plays Thomas’s piano coach. Aure Atika plays Aline. She’s Thomas’s lover as well as his best friend’s wife. Melanie Laurent, who was wonderful in Beginners, has a small role in this film as the girl friend of the Russian mobster Minskov.

Summary: An impressive effort that I had difficulty in liking. The characters offer us little besides intensity and questions. This isn’t a knock against the actors. I see it as more of a problem of intent. But that means it is more my problem, than the film’s.

Many have compared this film to the 1978 film by James Toback called Fingers. In that film, Harvey Keitel played a dysfunctional young man pulled between to his loan-shark father and his mob connections, and his mother, a mentally disturbed concert pianist. Since I have not seen that film, I cannot make any comparison beyond the simple plot synopsis, and a connection that I’ll get to momentarily.

Instead, I’m in a better position to compare this film to The Gambler which starred James Caan as a degenerate gambler, who couldn’t stop himself even though his journey would take him to absolute rock-bottom. Directed by Karel Reisz, this 1974 film, was also written by James Toback. Which is undoubtedly why I see the similarities.

In the notes for the writing credits for The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Toback is given a writing credit in this film for his earlier screenplay for Fingers. So in that sense, we could call it a 2005 French remake of Toback’s Fingers.

Either way, Romain Duris plays the part perfectly. You may not like the character, and the film is not a walk in the park, but you cannot deny that the performance by Duris is riveting.

Three point seven five is my rating.

5 thoughts on “The Beat That My Heart Skipped

  1. Sorry to hear you didn’t like Thomas — not a surprise, of course — but I’ve discovered that I seem to be unusual in enjoying movies with quite unlikeable protagonists/ anti-heroes.

    I really liked this film, clearly more than you did — I loved the contrast between the despicable things Thomas did for work and the beautiful, heartbreaking piano playing. Maybe it’s also that I saw this film without knowing a single thing about it, so I was so delighted with the unfolding of the story.

    Overall I’m a huge fan of French noir, so keep up the good work on this score!

    • Thanks for the comment Didion … so you go for the bad boys … okay

      I thought Duris was great as Thomas – but a womanizing thug like him is hard to like. Despite his musical capabilities. You acknowledged this yourself.

      There’s a more personal level for me. I’ve been to Paris a number of times – and for me, the greatest joys I’ve experienced there were as simple as walking about in the streets, or sitting outside at a cafe in St.Germain watching life go by.

      Since most of the film was shot with interior settings – bars, restaurants, piano teacher’s apartment, Thomas apartment, recital hall – I just missed seeing the Paris I know and love.

      Of course walking about, as a tourist, even as an experienced tourist – is not the same as living/working there. So my experiences may conflict with what the director intended.

      Of course, 3.75 out of five is still a worthwhile rating.

      • Re: bad boys, I’m only human, right?

        But seriously, I’ve discovered that other people often hate a film simply because it has an unlikeable main character — whereas I don’t need to emotionally connect to anyone in a film to enjoy it.

        Fair enough about feeling disappointed that you don’t get to see the city you love. I’m still thinking about that for another film I saw recently, one set in Buenos Aires but which shows sort of a gloomy, depressed version of the city. Still mulling it over. Is it fair to demand that every film shot in a familiar place portray that place in the same way that you want to see it? Probably not….

  2. Didion – I agree that it isn’t fair to demand that a familiar place be as light and airy and beautiful as I personally experienced it or remember it in a film that I see. But while I don’t require that each film have beautiful sunsets, or flower beds in the parks, or smartly dressed people passing by – it is quite likely that a noir film will bring forth a different reaction. Examples – compare this film to Paris at Midnight.

    Apples and oranges in filmic terms – of course.
    With the natural reactions also being of the apples and oranges kind.

    Vous êtes d’accord?

  3. Comme ci, comme ça…maybe I also like seeing the gritty underside of a place beyond the usual spots. But yeah, there’s nothing like watching a film about a beautiful place and getting that wanderlust — I’m with you there!

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