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My King takes a look at what happens beyond an intoxicating first date—and it ain’t pretty. A Blue Valentine–esque story of a couple leaning toward middle age, the film sears, pulling you inside an affair in which two strong-headed people love passionately and fight with equal fervor.

Tony (Cannes Best Actress–winning Emmanuelle Bercot) spots Georgio (Vincent Cassel, an appealing scoundrel) at a nightclub when the playboy is holding center court on the dance floor. She recognizes him from her bartending days, when he’d flirt with women by lightly flinging water in their faces. (Not as fury-inducing as it sounds.) So Tony goes over to Georgio once he takes a seat and flings likewise, only to have him not immediately remember her. But he does by the end of the night and promptly invites Tony and her friends to his magnificent apartment for breakfast. 

Director and co-writer Maïwenn’s major misstep is framing the story around a painfully forced metaphor. (Etienne Comar helped with the script.) Tony has seriously injured her knee while skiing and checks into a rehab center, where she’ll stay for several months. When she gets there, an intake person asks her what happened, and won’t accept the obvious answer. “Why did your skies get tangled? Why then?” Tony, naturally, laughs at the question. But the woman looks up the psychobabble significance of the knee, and its health (or lack thereof) is indicative of accepting an event. And gee, Tony and Georgio had just gotten divorced. So it wasn’t the skis; it’s Tony’s emotional core that done fucked her up.

Tony and Georgio’s romance is then shown in flashbacks. It’s a largely unnecessary tack; it’s also a safe assumption that Maïwenn thought telling the story in a linear manner would be too dull. Turning this pair dull, however, would take Herculean effort. When things are good with them, they’re great, and the honeymoon period lasts for a while. Georgio immediately wants to have a child with Tony, telling her that he loves her the first time they sleep together. She gets caught up in his whirlwind and also gets pregnant, which is when the trouble starts: Georgio’s obsessive and unstable ex-girlfriend, a supermodel named Agnès (Chrystèle Saint Louis Augustin), attempts suicide after hearing that he’s about to have a baby. And his guilt—or something else, perhaps—keeps Georgio looking after her, visiting her in the hospital, taking her calls at all hours, and even naming her godmother. 

Tony tries to be patient, but she eventually succumbs to depression and mood swings that become so severe that Georgio tells her, “24/7 with you is beyond me.” So he gets his own apartment, stocked with wine before he even has furniture, “for business clients.” You can see where this is heading.

The storminess of their ensuing 10-year relationship is palpable. Bercot delivers a fiery and raw performance, in one scene playing Tony so drunkenly unhinged that otherworldly sounds occasionally emanate from her mouth. Cassel easily calls up his villainous side, his Georgio calmly torturing Tony with his ever-increasing need for freedom and other women, suggesting that she’s being unreasonable.  

Within the tempest, though, Maïwenn captures some lovely scenes. One is when the couple first meet their son, with Tony holding up the sweet infant as the pair gawks at him with the disbelief most every new parent feels. Another is during a tender moment that Tony feels toward her ex as he speaks during a parent-teacher meeting. The camera—Tony’s eyes—takes in Georgio’s features, from his forehead to his stubbled chin, as if with renewed fascination. Despite the enduring allure of their mutual pull toward each other, though, make no mistake: My King is a film that will make you wish you never fall in love again. 

My King opens today at the Angelika Pop-Up.