Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De Battre Mon Coeur S’est Arrêté) (France, 2005) is a remake of a nasty little film from the late seventies called ‘Fingers’. It concerns Thomas, a roughhouse member of a team of enforcer/fixers for his real-estate-slumlord father. They roust squatters, plant rats, and break legs – it’s just what they do, and Thomas does it with angry enthusiasm. A chance meeting, however, redirects Thomas’ priorities. He happens upon the former agent of his late concert-pianist mother, who remembers Thomas as a pianist full of promise himself. Thomas then applies himself to re-learning his former high level of playing with the help of an Asian conservatory pianist who has recently relocated to Paris.
Romain Duris, as Thomas, does a superb job of showing us the layers that make up Thomas. His vocation as enforcer and aspiring real-estate wheeler-dealer is driven by a fierce loyalty to his father, as well as his own unfocused sense of ambition. When the musical alternative presents itself, we learn that Thomas’ mother developed some behavioral conflicts associated with her career, and has passed on. Who Thomas will choose to emulate, and where Thomas’ emotional loyalties really lie, become intriguing questions. He needs to find his own capacity for creative generosity and discipline while remaining loyal to his father, who shares his own testosterone-fueled inclinations for danger and sex. Thomas participates in helping his working cohort lie to his wife about his infidelities – when the arrangement is discovered by the wife, Aline (Aure Atika), Thomas expediently seduces her. Has he coldly manipulated her, or is this connection something he actually needs, and can create? The piano lessons are equally intriguing – his teacher, while obviously a talented and caring musician, speaks absolutely no french, and their communications are sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing. And where they end up at the film’s conclusion is richly ironic.
The original, ‘Fingers’, situated the Thomas character, Jimmy Fingers, as a Mob enforcer, and Harvey Keitel really worked both extremes of the character’s duality, at times profoundly compassionate, and other times amorally cruel. It was James Toback’s first film, and Toback placed Jimmy in a much darker, more malevolently stylized New York than the Paris that Thomas functions in. It’s instructive that in the DVD extras for ‘Heart’, Audiard explains that his co-screenwriter, Tonino Benacquista, hated this movie. They collaborated to create a character that kept Jimmy’s rough, sociopathic edges while investing him with a more empathetic sense of what his choices are and how he pursues them. And Duris is sensational – I’d never seen him, but he also appears in the french films ‘Gadjo Dilo’, ‘L’Auberge Espanol’ and ‘Moliere’.