Mon Roi perfectly casts Vincent Cassel as king of the jerks - review

4
Emmanuelle Bercot stars in Maïwenn's Mon Roi
Emmanuelle Bercot stars in Maïwenn's Mon Roi Credit: Festival de Cannes

Mon Roi, the latest film from the French actress and director Maïwenn, is a great, seething pot of delicious emotional noodles. Its subject is the 10-year romance between two 40-something Parisians who are simultaneously the best and worst things to happen to each other. The film, which was co-written by Maïwenn and Etienne Comar, plays a coy but vastly satisfying game of blowing hot and cold on their relationship.

Like Abdellatif Kechiche, the director of 2013’s Palme d’Or-winning Blue is the Warmest Colour, Maïwenn has her films unfold in a kind of perpetual, caffeinated close-up – they’re built of laughter and food and arguments and sex, all experienced at close quarters, with her camera capturing the emotions of her cast as they flash across their faces like sunlight through the windscreen of a speeding car.

Her last film was the laconic, loose-limbed cop drama Polisse, which played in competition at Cannes in 2011, and this feels very much of a piece with it.

This video content is no longer available
To watch The Telegraph's latest video content please visit youtube.com/telegraph

The lovers are Tony, a criminal lawyer played by Emmanuelle Bercot and Georgio, a rich and charisma-slathered restaurateur played by Vincent Cassel.

The pair meet one night in a Paris club; he’s lounging in the VIP area, and she approaches and playfully flicks water in his face. That was part of Georgio’s pick-up routine when Tony worked behind the bar of the club when she was a law student; now, she’s turning the tables, and he’s demonstrably impressed.

Georgio is still a man of routines, and his courtship of Tony feels oddly premeditated. It’s like something out of a rom-com, and Maïwenn and her cast have enormous fun with this; allowing Georgio to run his corny but undeniably charming chat-up lines on Tony (“Can I give you my mobile?” he asks her, then casually tosses his handset to her when she accepts, before speeding off in his Jaguar) before having them pulled apart by Tony’s suspicious younger brother Solal (a very funny Louis Garrel), his girlfriend Babeth (Isild Le Besco), and whichever of her other friends happen to be present.

Georgio is delightful in small doses only. At first, his screwball cross-talk is charming and hilarious, but it soon becomes tiresome, which is precisely the point. He’s not a villain, but a man who just never quite works out where the persona should end and the person begin.

Emmanuelle Bercot, Vincent Cassel in Mon Roi

“You’re not a jerk, are you?” Tony asks him in bed one morning after they’ve made love – wrapped in a bear-skin rug, no less. “Of course not,” he blurts, in mock-shock. “I’m the king of the jerks. Marching them all in.” There’s a kernel of truth in the joke, of course, but Tony misses Georgio’s winced acknowledgement of it. As the film’s title suggests, he’s her king now, too.

The main rollercoaster relationship plot is presented as a series of flashbacks from within a separate, present-day narrative, with Tony recuperating from a broken knee at a physical therapy centre on the French coast. Here she has a new group of friends – all good-humoured young men from various racial backgrounds, an optimistic group portrait of modern France.

Maïwenn cuts between the two, allowing Tony’s present physical recovery to play out in parallel with her earlier romantic collapse. These scenes are placid and clean, compared to the mounting madness of the past.

Georgio is a manipulator and, later, a psychological abuser, and it seems to come to him with worrying ease. In public he’s demonstrably a good partner. Though in big-picture terms he’s clearly a scumbag, if you took a single scene in isolation, you’d be hard-pushed to find the scumbaggery in it.

Besides, Tony is genuinely in love with him – or rather, the well-off, loving, alpha-provider she’s determined to see him as – and Bercot brilliantly portrays the confusion that boils slowly inside her character until it sporadically has to come shooting out, like sulphurous water from a geyser. In a couple of scenes, she really lets rip – we’re talking roaring at the sky in a rainstorm – but it’s completely of a piece with this energised, passionate film's tumbling emotions.