Jacques Audiard once again shows his mastery for exploring morally conflicted characters within a criminal world where the wicked succeed and the decent are thrown in the mud. In Read My Lips and A Prophet he gave us characters that tried to prevail in this world while still keeping their soul in tact, but here he does quite the opposite. Thomas Seyr doesn’t try to prevail through crime; he treats it just like he would any other job. The real story for him, what he really strives toward, is becoming a pianist. This is such a beautiful and unique approach to this story and I knew almost instantly that I was going to get attached to this guy. When he’s smashing windows and threatening people with a baseball bat, he stands almost in a daze, completely dulled by his surroundings as if it’s just any other day. It’s when he gets behind the piano that he comes alive, with all of the wonder and fear that comes with that.
Actor Romain Duris and Audiard really make you feel every emotion that goes through Seyr during these scenes. The frustration when he gets something wrong, the anxiety when he’s auditioning for a manager and the pure unadulterated bliss that comes when he just stops and lets his love for music flow over him. Audiard again proves his knack for beautifully staging certain scenes, this is shown in particular with all of the musical moments in the film. He also does this thing that he did in A Prophet where he distorts the image when some very beautiful moments are happening and it makes you take even more notice that something truly special is happening currently; be it for good or for bad. Everything with Seyr’s love for the piano is what sold the film for me, but I thought that the romantic subplots were remarkable as well.
Everything with his friend’s wife was endlessly fascinating and let Audiard shed some great light onto themes of lust, betrayal, deceit and selfishness; the kind of possession and anarchy that can come with love. But what worked the most for me was the dynamic between Seyr and Miao Lin, his piano teacher who is also a Chinese immigrant that doesn’t speak a word of French. The two of them together, thanks primarily to the performances from Duris and Linh Dan Pham, don’t understand a word that the other is saying but somehow they are able to convey this kind of puppy-dog love that they slowly develop. Through the highs and lows of their dynamic they never understand a word that the other is saying but somehow they still know exactly what the other means. It’s really beautiful to watch and further explores that theme of love that Audiard sets up to run underneath the whole story.
The audition scene is staged extraordinarily and really hit me a lot emotionally, but what’s even more impressive is how Audiard stages the final scene of the picture. Trying to talk about it could definitely veer into spoiler territory, so I’ll avoid that just by saying that it was a moment made of palpable tension and Audiard really hammered this theme that the person you are sticks with you no matter what you try to do. You can escape your life, but the past will always come back and there are parts of you that can just never stayed bury forever. Somehow it will come back out.