Love hurts, and it’s not just the Nazareth song that echoes the feeling. Just take a deep dive into My King, the transfixing fourth film from French-actress-turned-director Maïwenn, . She breathes vivid, shocking life into this tale of a destructive, decade-long love affair and in the process blows away all the clichés associated with the genre.
When we meet Tony, an attorney played with mostly hidden feeling by Emmanuelle Bercot, she’s damned near killed herself on a skiing trip. Now, at a recovery center, Tony gets to a take stock with a group of other bruised egos. (Holy shit, it sounds like every TV soap opera that makes us reach for the remote.) But as the flashbacks begin and we see the give-and-take between Tony and her restaurateur lover, Georgio (Vincent Cassel), it becomes abundantly clear that Maïwenn has her own tempestuous game plan. Her script is merely a template she devised with cowriter Etienne Comar to let her actors improvise a relationship in all its wild, erotic and injurious abandon.
It’s no wonder Tony is attracted to Georgio. His intensity is a magnet for her insecurity. They basically hurl themselves at each other. At first, Tony isn’t alarmed. But her brother Solal (the excellent Louis Garrel) sees the warning signs. We see them, too, and yet find ourselves drawn to this couple who marry, procreate, divorce and re-connect in a codependent spiral that only tragedy might end. Tony and Georgio are a riveting pair of opposites, and Bercot and Cassel deliver phenomenal performances. We root for Tony to stand up for herself. We pull for Georgio to change his horndog ways. And when they don’t, they annoy the hell out of us.
That’s the power of My King. It sees that passion creates an unholy mess. Maïwenn doesn’t want to warm our heart, she wants to rip into it, and turn the concept of the Hollywood happy ending on its head. In her last film, Polisse (2011), the director pulled no punches in showing how cops hunted down child molesters. Don’t expect her to go soft on crimes committed in the name of love. Her film may be called My King, but Maïwenn bows to no one. She’s both thrilled and appalled by the dark secrets she uncovers — and so are we. In this bonfire of a film, you capitulate to her daring and the no-bullshit way she digs out her own kind of truth.