The Beat That My Heart Skipped

Aug 17, 2005 at 12:00 am

Given France’s intense (and often annoying) national pride, the idea of a French filmmaker remaking an American movie must give Parisian cineastes heart palpitations. Flirting with cultural treason, Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips, A Self-Made Hero) delivers a stylishly chilly reimagination of James Toback’s 1978 film Fingers. Starring a young Harvey Keitel as a dreamy thug who aspires to be a concert pianist, Toback’s first, and arguably best, film embraced unsettling violence with a grim sense of humor.

Abandoning much of Fingers’ style and theme, Audiard has created a work that is darker, more ambiguous and, well, French. A moody character study, Beat confronts the fading ideals of anti-hero Thomas Seyr (Romain Duris), a twentysomething lowlife. Releasing rats into low-rent apartments, cutting off utilities and occasionally brandishing baseball bats, he and his loan shark cronies (Gilles Cohen and Jonathan Zaccaï) put together shady real estate deals. Ambitious, bad-tempered and sullen, he follows in the footsteps of his slumlord father, occasionally acting as his enforcer or debt collector.

A chance encounter with his deceased mother’s agent (she was a concert pianist) reignites Tom’s interest in music. Though he hasn’t played in years, the piano becomes a desperate bid to leave behind his seedy and violent life. He hires the beautiful but exacting Vietnamese pianist Miao Lin (Linh Dan Pham) to coach him for his big audition.

Audiard gets good mileage out of Tom’s brutish and explosive anger and Lin’s graceful sense of discipline. Tom’s torturous attempts to conquer the piano carry as much drama as his violent run-ins with criminals. His yearning to be transformed by music softens his dark, brooding edges and reluctantly we begin to care about him.

Tom is his own worst enemy. He carries on an affair with his crooked partner’s wife and decides to intervene in his father’s bitter feud with a vicious Russian mobster. Though indecision and poor choices repeatedly derail his salvation, it’s clear he doesn’t like who he is any more than we do. He’s a man in search of both his heart and his soul. As a result, his quest for peace and maturity generates far more suspense than you might expect.

Audiard’s film, lovingly shot, bristles with an intimate energy that sweeps the viewer along. He keeps the sentimentality in check and delivers an unsettling ending that, at first glance, seems unsatisfying. Whether or not Tom’s fate qualifies as a happy ending depends on your viewpoint; it’s as contradictory as Tom himself. In the end, Audiard leaves it up to the audience to put it into perspective. How very French.


Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111).

Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to [email protected].