There are few things in cinema more rewarding than a truly well made, engrossing slab of melodrama. With emotions as heightened as the performances, filmmakers can mine this mountain of emotion for deep seeded, profound truths about everything from love to loss, life to death. However, it’s a tricky rope to walk. Easily spilling over into insufferable histrionics or conversely never matching it’s emotion to its intellect, melodrama is as much about high emotional peaks as it is about narrative nuance.
And yet, here’s the latest film from Cannes-approved auteur Maiwenn. Entitled My King, the film introduces us to Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot), who after beginning physical therapy following a horrific skiing accident begins to reflect on a now decade old relationship she had with her ex-husband Georgio (Vincent Cassel). From their first flirtation in a bar to their courtship, through their marriage, son’s birth and their divorce, the film paints a broad portrait of a relationship born out of mutual attraction and ultimately undone because of distrust and codependency. A melodrama in every meaning of the word, Maiwenn’s latest film is a strikingly crafted if frustratingly uneven work that feels as unmodulated in its tone as it looks visually compelling.
Clocking in at just a touch over two hours, there is much to be evangelical about within this picture. Aesthetically, the film earns very high marks. The direction is intimate and draws heavily from the modern, Dardenne-esque neo-realism that has taken over much of European cinema. And the photography is equally great, giving the film a great sense of tactile naturalism. This ground level filmmaking in turn anchors the picture, never allowing the narrative to bleed out of the realm of possibility despite being otherwise supremely histrionic. The structure is clear and, while not breaking any ground, aids in giving the film an extra level of weight and another emotional center for the film to connect to.
That being said, the film is trying its absolute best to undo all that the filmmaking craft is doing by never altering its tone. While many forgettable melodramas falter due to the level of their emotions never matching the narrative weight, this fails to introduce any quieter moments. It’s in these quiet moments that real humanity seeps through, helping explore the evolving state of emotions within our leads. However, every set piece is played at the same level, the same note being hit in the same key. At two hours and some change, the film can become exhausting, the film plateauing after the first act. The themes at the center of the film are interesting, with a few set pieces mixed throughout the subsequent acts showing us a relationship whose violence is entirely emotional, but even then at the bloated run time the narrative occasionally spins its wheels.
Thankfully, the performances offer up more than enough to elevate the material. Bercot is absolutely superb here, with only one or two beats playing as emotional outliers (there’s particularly a dinner scene in the back half of the film that’s almost unwatchable). HER chemistry with costar Cassel is palpable and utterly enthralling, feeling as natural as any couple we’ve seen on screen this year. She has a really great presence and her handle of this type of emotionally weighty material is second to none. Cassel is also great, but offering up something entirely different. He’s charismatic and impossible to turn away from, but he’s also an insecure character, one who is as sexually engrossing as he is emotionally dangerous. It’s a great performance, harnessing his energy as we’ve rarely seen done.
Distributors Film Movement have another hit on their hands. Despite qualms about the film’s tone being one note, something that could usually spell doom for most melodramas, the performances in the latest film from polarizing filmmaker Maiwenn are above reproach. A gorgeously made, if sometimes infuriatingly exhausting, meditation on a specific type of dangerous relationship, My King is impeccably made and another example that maybe, just maybe, the days of melodrama aren’t over yet.