by Chuck Williamson
If award prognosticators are to be believed, this year’s Cannes Film Festival was little more than a two-horse race between Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon and Jacques Audriard’s A Prophet. Of course, the Palme d’Or ultimately went to Haneke, but Audriard’s film nonetheless sent shockwaves through the croisette and became a festival sensation. The film went on to win the Grand Prix and, according to Indiewire, was unofficially named the festival’s top-rated film by critics. With this post-festival buzz in mind, I think it would be a good time to revisit Audriard’s last film, which I believe might be one of the best films of the decade: The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005). Loosely adapted from James Toback’s little-seen cult oddity Fingers (1978), the film mixes two-fisted pulp with haunting mediation, pulsing with nervy, near-volatile energy but pausing long enough to capture the tortured romanticism and artistic longing of its protagonist.
Filled with grainy, handheld camerawork and jagged, arrhythmic editing, The Beat That My Heart Skipped visualizes the tense, broken-down Parisian underworld where Tom (Romain Duris), a low-rent thug working for his sleazy slumlord father (Niels Arestrup) as a brutal enforcer and debt-collector, seems predestined to follow the family legacy of crime and corruption. But when a chance encounter awakens his long-dormant aspirations of following his deceased mother’s footsteps and becoming a classical pianist, Tom soon finds a means to channel his rage into music—and soon finds himself struggling between familial duty and artistic fulfillment. Featuring blistering, hyperkinetic action interspersed with quiet moments of introspection and development—not to mention a charismatic, irrepressible lead performance from Duris—The Beat That My Heart Skipped is an intoxicating cocktail that remains a singular cinematic experience.