While on a skiing vacation in the mountains, Toni (Emmanuelle Bercot) injures her knee when her ski gets stuck in the snow. She is taken to a physical rehabilitation clinic, where doctors and nurses will slowly help her relearn to walk on her injured joint. Upon arriving, a staff member gently inquires on her feelings regarding the injury, and her comments inadvertently inspire Tony to reflect and process her tumultuous relationship with Georgio (Vincent Cassel), her former husband and the father of her child, Simbad.
Romantic relationships, both good and bad, are easily the most common fodder for art, and yet Maiwenn seems to have a slightly different objective with My King than any other film in recent memory. From the outset, it is clear that the story is not a "happily ever after" fairy tale, yet to call it an examination of what caused their relationship to end is reductive as well. The character of Georgio, so clearly seen throughout the film through the eyes of Tony, is a contradiction, a warts-and-all creation who fully exists as both a charming and alluring person and as a frustrating, selfish asshole, and the film is not about the love or the loss but more about Tony's acceptance of the entire package. Georgio and Tony will never stop fighting, never stop being intimate, never stop being awful to one another, and never stop loving each other, even if their romantic relationship comes to a permanent end.
The particular richness of My King lies in the beautiful performances that Maiwenn evokes from both performers. As the flashbacks begin, with Tony eyeing Georgio from nearby on a Saturday Night Fever-like dance club, the chemistry between Bercot and Cassel is off the charts, communicated in both performers' nervous, beautiful smiles and expressive eyes. The playfulness between the two of them during the film's first love scene is both funny and sexy at the same time, with Georgio reassuring Tony that a complaint by one of her exes is absurd. Maiwenn taps directly into her performers' raw electricity to heighten the first section of the movie, drenching it with sweetheart emotion that both invests the viewer in their relationship and primes the audience to enter the more tumultuous period with just as much intensity.
The first crack in the relationship's veneer is Agnes (Chrystele Saint Louis Augustin), an ex of Georgio's that he keeps tabs on. Shortly after Tony becomes pregnant, Agnes attempts suicide, slowly drawing Georgio away. There is no evidence that Georgio is actually cheating on Tony with Agnes, but the slow erosion of his presence in their relationship weighs heavily on Tony as she prepares to have their child. As the foundation starts to crumble, Maiwenn and Comar deftly balance the amount of strife they put the couple through, bouncing back to the occasional scene of pleasure, including a particularly overwhelming moment when the couple first see their newborn child. Meanwhile, we see Tony, in the present, bonding with some of the other patients in physical therapy. At a glance, this may seem like a distraction, an unnecessary side story burdening the two-hour film, but it feels like evidence of Tony's core self, the same playful and vibrant person seen when she first encounters Georgio.
Although the concurrent plotlines of physical therapy and personal therapy could come off as on-the-nose, Maiwenn handles both with a tenderness and authenticity that sells the metaphor. Cassel is great, both at playing mean-spirited manipulator and genuinely warm husband and father, but the movie really rests on Bercot's capable shoulders. She has a certain composure to herself, a way of moving and existing in the moment, which feels uniquely believable and real, with all the rawness and unpredictability of an actual person. So much of the film consists of the camera watching Bercot observing and considering Georgio's qualities and shortcomings, and she conveys plenty in those moments. Of course, being observed as opposed to being the observer does not prevent Georgio from being full and complete as well. It's the film's greatest strength: to form a true picture of relationship, Maiwenn and Comar craft two complete people, and allow them to exist fully, together and apart, on their own terms, without judgment.
The Video and Audio
The other extra is Film Movement's traditional inclusion of a short to go with the feature, and in this case, they have found another film by Maiwenn, I'm An Actrice (23:48). Starring Shanna Besson, Maiwenn's real-life daughter with filmmaker Luc Besson, the short tracks the complicated relationship between Isabella (Maiwenn) and Baba (Besson) as Isabella tries to encourage her daughter's acting by pushing her into an audition. Besson is impressive in the short, and the relationship between her and Isabella feels real thanks to the pair's real-life relationship. A bittersweet but charming piece.
Trailers for Neither Heaven Nor Earth, My Love, Don't Cross That River, The Ardennes, and a promo for Film Movement play before the main menu. The above trailers and additional spots for Breathe, Full Moon in Paris, and The Best Intentions can be found in the special features. A theatrical trailer for My King is also included.