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The Beat That My Heart Skipped

Having bought a DVD a couple of weeks back on a recommendation, I finally got a chance to watch it. It’s a French film called “The Beat that my Heart Skipped” directed by Jacques Audiard and released in 2005 (so this is not a review). It tells the story of a young man Tom (Romain Duris), who involves himself in the dark end of the property business, wrecking apartments so that homeless people wont find refuge for free and releasing a bag of rats on a family to force them to quit, not to mention employing extreme violence when neccessary. His own father Robert (Niels Arestrup) is a veteran of this shady business and calls on his son as enforcer. But Tom has a love of music and it turns out was quite a good pianist, or at least that’s the opinion of his late mother’s friend who was manager to her concert pianist career. Upon a chance encounter, the manager tells Tom to schedule an audition as he believes Tom possess’ real potential. Tom seeks out a tutor in the form of Miao-Lin (Linh Dan Pham), who painstakingly polishes Tom’s innate abilities. Finally reaching a point at which they are both happy, Tom auditions and fluffs the opportunity because the darker side of his life encroached on his rest the previous night. Tom’s inner conflict increases when he begins an affair with Aline (Aure Atika), his friend Fabrice’s wife, who has discovered that Tom covers for her husband when he meets other women for sex. At the same time Tom’s father becomes entangled with a sinister Russian Minskov (Anton Yakovlev) and is murdered in his apartment. We jump forward two years and find that Tom is now Miao-Lin’s manager and quite possibly her lover. On his way to her concert, he encounters Minskov and attacks him in a stairwell, stopping short at blowing his brains out with his own gun. Tom cleans himself up as best he can in the toilets and takes his seat in the auditorium to listen to Miao-Lin play the piano.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film and it brought to mind the age old debate of character driven stories versus plot driven. Two Irish films which excelled in this area were “Garage” and further back “Adam and Paul” both directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Mark O’Halloran. I’ve often heard it said “why does a good film have to be exclusive of one or the other”, and I suppose the answer is they don’t have to be. It’s a big risk to dispense with plot, but very often a risk worth taking because when you do, you are afforded the opportunity to lay bare the honest minutia of life, that is very often missed in the need to advance the plot. Although character driven stories are for the most part associated with European film, Hollywood is quite accomplished in this area as well. Two recent examples are “The Wrestler” with Mickey Rourke and “Crazy Heart” with Jeff Bridges.

These stories depend heavily on two things, a visceral honesty not only in the script but also the portrayal of the characters and a top class performance. Get these two wrong and you have nothing to fall back on in your film. Get them right and you have a film which will stand the test of time.

Although it’s legitimate to express a personal preference when it comes to character as opposed to plot driven films (and personally I enjoy both) it’s equally important to accept that both forms of film are valid and simply form part of the vast variety of film types around the world. Very often one encounters an elitist, high brow dismissive attitude to plot driven stories. This serves no one – producers or audience and quiet honestly, is more damaging to the form they believe they hold in esteem. It’s a little bit like, I would be more Green if it weren’t for the Greens.

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