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A royal bow for 'Kings and Queen'

'Kings and Queen' is a rich tale of familial reconciliations.

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The so-called queen in "Kings and Queen," the most luminous European import so far this year, isn't a royal highness. She's a working woman and single mom named Nora. The so-called kings are the men who've populated her life, and some of them are far from kingly.

One is a recent lover who killed himself. Another is her second husband, Ismaël, a musician she married after her first husband died. Ismaël is likeable, but he's also a psychological mess.

It's to him that Nora must turn when she learns her aging father's life is coming to an end, raising concerns about the future security of Elias, her young child.

Narratives with intertwined subplots are fashionable nowadays. French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin gives unusual unity to his many-layered movie, though, crafting a sometimes intricate story with diverse elements that dovetail just beautifully in the closing scene, as Nora realizes how the experiences and personalities she's known have combined to broaden and enrich her life.

Also impressive is Mr. Desplechin's attention to the ways past events are always intersecting with our hour-by-hour activities and thoughts. Beneath the film's sometimes comic, sometimes tragic scenes, there's an abiding concern with the meanings and mechanisms of memory.

"Kings and Queen" signals a welcome resurgence in Desplechin's career. He first gained international acclaim with his brilliant 1991 short "La Vie des Morts" and his feature "La Sentinelle" the following year. Then he slipped with the muddled "My Sex Life ... or How I Got Into an Argument" and the melodramatic "Esther Kahn."

"Kings and Queen" is the movie that fulfills his extraordinary promise at last. It's hugely ambitious, with a sweeping range of character types, frequently shifting moods, stylistic flourishes of many kinds, and some mighty wry satire, aimed largely at the world of psychotherapy.

It begins and ends with "Moon River" on the soundtrack, though, assuring us that art and entertainment are flip sides of the same aesthetic coin. Desplechin has now mastered both.

Not rated; contains sexuality, drugs, and illness.


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