You know you're watching a great character study when the physical minutiae of the actors onscreen become as fascinating to you as their motivations. In Taxi Driver, it was Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle, clenching his fist above an open flame, whose form burned itself into the memory. In The Beat That My Heart Skipped, the new film by French director Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips), it is the roving hands and tormented posture of Thomas Seyr, played with fiery charm and saving cynicism by Romain Duris.
The film is a remake of James Toback's 1978 film Fingers, starring Harvey Keitel. The plot involves a young man caught between a world of crime and a passion for art. The difficulty is how to merge these two worlds -- in Audiard's case, updated to the seedy underworld of Paris real estate and the highbrow landscape of concert halls -- without making the character's emerging struggle too contrived.
Because all the relationships Thomas develops along the way seem so genuine, the film is able to transition back and forth between the violent world Thomas has inherited from his father and the realm of concert piano, a musical legacy of his mother. Most satisfying is that the film does not end predictably, with a droll success. Rather it maintains its razor edge past the point of comfort. Like its predecessor, The Beat That My Heart Skipped culminates in bloody failure, but unlike Toback, Audiard does not conclude with his protagonist's solitary disintegration. His epilogue attests to a film that is elegiac without being hopeless.
Opens Friday, September 9th, at Studio on the Square