The Beat That My Heart Skipped

    Back in 1978, I was still getting my education in film and film criticism.
At that time, several critics I admired praised
FINGERS, James Toback’s
feature directorial debut, so I dutifully went off to see it … and came away
confused. Honestly, that film left me rather cold. Harvey Keitel’s central
performance was intriguing but in many ways he seemed to me to be
channeling Robert De Niro. For the most part, I just didn’t get what all
the fuss was about. A recent viewing of the film on DVD only served
to reinforce those initial impressions. So settling in to see Jacques
Audiard’s French remake,
De battre mon coeur s'est arête or
THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED, I wasn’t expecting much, but I
came away having been totally engrossed and intrigued. Yes, some of
the scenes are almost taken verbatim from the original, but Audiard
(whose last film
READ MY LIPS was also a favorite of mine) and his
co-writer Tonino Benacquista have improved upon the original work.

    In Audiard’s version, the central character is called Thomas Seyr and
embodied with verve and sex appeal by Romain Duris. Thomas makes his
living wheeling and dealing in real estate – he and his pals will release
bagfuls of rats to chase out squatters, take over the property, fix it up a
bit and sell it for a tidy profit. In some ways, he is following in his the
stead of his own father Robert (Neils Arestrup), now past his prime.
Thomas clearly walks that fine line between worshipping his dad and
despising him. The mixture of feelings arises because Thomas’ late
mother was a successful concert pianist and at one time Thomas
had showed promise in following in her footsteps. With her death, though,
he was consigned to become more like his father, and he easily sees his
own future when he encounters Robert, and that he clearly does not like
what he sees.)

    Toback’s original was a strange fever dream – Keitel’s Jimmy was
always surrounded by music, whether playing a grand piano in his loft
or carrying around  a precursor of a boom box. The conflict within the man
was palpable, particularly in a scene with his mother (who in the original
was still alive but institutionalized). By making some adjustments,
Audiard and Benacquista have made the material more humane and more
believable. Thomas hasn’t touched a piano in years but when he meets a
mentor of his mother’s who encourages him to audition, he becomes a
man obsessed. Thomas becomes torn between the two worlds of his
upbringing: the slightly sleazy, illegal life of his father and the more
posh society that his mother inhabited.

    This change in plot allows Audiard to introduce a Vietnamese
immigrant (Linh Dan Pham) who doesn’t speak French yet agrees
to tutor Thomas for his audition. In their scenes together Duris exhibits
a tenderness and passion channeled through the music. While Thomas
may be attracted to her (and vice versa), she also of another world and
he instead embarks on an affair with the estranged wife of one of his
business partners. Once again, Thomas is pulled between two distinct
and very different worlds, and whether or not he will ever find a place in
either is his particular tribulation.

    One doesn’t have to have seen
FINGERS to be able to enjoy the
many pleasures of
the sterling lead turn by Romain Duris.

Rating:                      A-
MPAA Rating:             NONE
Running time:            108 mins.

                         Viewed at Magno Review One
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.