Beat that My Heart Skipped, The (France, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Beat that My Heart Skipped is director Jacques Audiard's re-imagination of James Toback's Fingers. Although Audiard and his co-writer, Tonino Benacquista, have retained the premise and some of the ideas of the original, this is, for the most part, a different take on the material. In fact, some of the most important thematic aspects of this film are not evident in Fingers. The Beat that My Heart Skipped is about one man's attempt to walk the tightrope between two divergent aspects of his life, and the ways in which his indecision causes him to fail at both. It's a tale of maturity and self-discovery. Whether or not it has a "happy" ending depends on your perspective. There is no ambiguity about what happens at the conclusion, but Audiard leaves it up to the viewer to put it into perspective.

Thomas (Romain Duris) is a twenty-something real estate broker trying to claw his way up the ladder of success. His job involves intimidation and thuggery as often as wheeling and dealing. It's up to him to clear out vagrants from properties his bosses want to sell - by any means possible. This can involve loosing rats and swinging baseball bats. Romain is following in the footsteps of his father, Robert (Neils Arestrup), who is over-the-hill but doesn't know it. And he's in love with Aline (Aure Atika), the wife of his philandering partner. A chance encounter forces Thomas to confront his passion for classical music and playing the piano - an ardor derived from his childhood, when he spent time learning from his now-deceased concert pianist mother. He seeks the services of a teacher, a Vietnamese immigrant named Miao-Lin (Linh-Dan Pham), who doesn't know French but knows the instrument. As Thomas' obsession with playing the piano grows, he finds himself straddling two worlds, and increasingly uncertain in which one he belongs.

Ultimately, the struggle becomes one of money against art. One allows Thomas to feed his belly, the other feeds his soul. He has two muses: Aline in the harsh, macho world where he makes his living, and Miao-Lin in the world where he finds inner peace. Then there are the influences of his mother's ghost and his father's still-alive spirit, which pull him in opposite directions. It is Thomas' inability to commit to either direction that generates much of the film's tension. He becomes sloppy in business and frustrated with his inability to master the piano.

The film's most intriguing relationship is between Thomas and Miao-Lin. Initially pupil and teacher, they begin to develop feelings for one another. Their communication is through music and gestures, since she doesn't speak French and he doesn't speak Vietnamese. Audiard doesn't resort to Hollywood melodrama - he keeps the romance low-key (in contrast to the heated and passionate exchanges between Thomas and Aline). The other crucial relationship is between Thomas and his father, although this one is at times a little too clich├ęd (the son trying to prove himself worthy of the bitter father's love) to be compelling.

Romain Duris (L'Auberge Espagnole) achieves the balance necessary to make Thomas work. From the beginning, we see that the character is more than a common, low-level gangster, but it isn't until he sits in front of a piano that we understand why. The supporting performances - from the exotic Aure Atika, Linh-Dan Pham (Indochine), Niels Arestrup, and Emmanuelle Devos (as Robert's girlfriend, Chris) - are uniformly excellent.

At first glance, The Beat that My Heart Skipped is a departure from Audiard's previous effort, the excellent Read My Lips. But there are similarities in tone and style. Both films take place in those parts of Paris where tourists do not venture. Shadow and darkness are almost potent enough to be characters, and sound (or the lack thereof) is critical. This is character-driven film noir, where the violence serves a higher purpose than shocking or titillating an audience.

Beat that My Heart Skipped, The (France, 2005)

Run Time: 1:47
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: English subtitled French
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1