It’s a good remake
Remakes are like the weather: they happen whether we like it or not. Sometimes the experience is filthy. Occasionally they can be wonderful. Case in point: The Beat That My Heart Skipped. It derives from James Toback’s Fingers. That had Harvey Keitel as a mafiosi who wanted to make it as concert pianist. It had a nervy, profane energy that was very American: angry, violent, as unwelcome and inevitable as a midnight pistol whipping. It was a character study masked in the manners of a grotty B movie. Director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet), an expert on creating a mood of sulky dread, takes Toback’s plot basics and transposes them to contemporary Paris. Think of it as a terrific cover version of a brilliant song.
Tom (Romain Duris) is a dodgy real estate broker tortured by elegant dreams of success on the posh concert platforms of Europe. That was what his dead mother hoped for him, anyway. His standard wardrobe ensemble – white business shirt with slick black jacket – is a dead giveaway. He’s a thug who chases off stubborn tenants with bat and fist. The only way Tom can live with this is hate himself. His old man Robert (Niels Arestrup) doesn’t help. He’s an aged crook who burdens Tom with bad debts and life lessons if learned are destined to end behind bars. Eager for redemption, Tom hires Miao-Lin (Linh-Dan Pham) as a piano tutor. But Audiard smothers any promise of easy romance. These scenes are like deadpan cringe comedy: false starts, miscommunication, tortured silence…
The rat scene
Beat lays out its incessant rhythm of hand-held high tension from its first moments in a scene of squirmy nastiness where Tom presses into service some undomesticated rodents in order to rid himself of pesky tenants, delivering this ‘gift’ like a demonic Santa. Details should be spare here. But let’s say that Tom’s style of real estate development isn’t for the faint-hearted.
It’s a delirious mix of electro beats and Bach, notably Toccata in E minor. The French title De battre mon cœur s'est arrêté, which literally translated into English means ‘from beating, my heart has stopped’, comes from the Jacques Dutronc song 'La Fille Du Père Noël' (‘Santa Claus's Daughter’).
Beat is filled out with a fine cast. It’s great to see, for instance, the wonderful Emmanuelle Devos, who only a few years before had won best actress in the Cesar’s as the hearing impaired heroine in Audiard’s Read My Lips (2001). She’s very good here as Robert’s fiancée. Linh-Dan Pham strikes a strong note too; she looks upon Tom as one would an alien with a mix of fascination and bewilderment in the face of something utterly strange. Of course, Duris carries the picture; he’s got a smile somewhere between a snarl and idiot grin. But for me, the acting highlight has to be the brilliant veteran Niels Arestrup as Tom’s dad. Overweight, shabby, but still menacing, eyes full of sad hope, Robert is instantly pitiable, and that’s just so. For Beat, if it’s nothing else, is a movie about how easy it is to disappoint as a father and the agony of trying to be a good son.
Watch 'The Beat That My Heart Skipped' at SBS On Demand: