Dir. Arnaud Desplechin.France, 2004. 150mins.

Arnaud Desplechin'sstatus as a hero of the French intelligentsia, whose charms remain largelyunfathomable to the rest of the world, continues with Kings And Queen,which is as delightful and infuriating as his previous work.

For two-and-a-half hours hespins two parallel tales that eventually converge to become one. Along the wayhe offers readymade aphorisms for later quotation, as well as reflections onopposites like madness and sanity; biological and adopted parenthood.

Presented as a collage thatdraws from sources like Apolinaire, Ravel, Yeats, Vivaldi and Calvino insupport of its arguments, Kings And Queen is a perfect piece forliterary salon life and certain types of festival, although it is unlikely tobe savoured much beyond that. Wellspring has US rights, Artificial Eye for theUK and Gaga for Japan: in France, Bac Film release Kings And Queen onDec 22.

Desplechin, who once said hemade his first film (La Vie Des Morts) to insult his family, his second(The Sentinel) to insult his country and his third (My Sex Life)to insult his girlfriends, can now add psychiatric institutions to his list of victims.

One story deals with Nora(Devos), who is about to lose her father (Garrel), a famous reclusive writerwho lives in the provinces. Other characters include Nora's son, Elias, whosefather, Pierre, died before he was born; Nora's subsequent partner, Ismael(Amalric), with whom she lived for several years but never got around tomarrying; her sister; Chloe (Boutefeu), a drug addict living on her father'shand-outs; and a nurse (Shulamit Adar) hired to care for the dying man in hislast hours.

The second story evolvesfrom Ismael, a musician who finds himself inexplicably thrown into a mentalasylum where he is examined by a hospital psychiatrist (Deneuve) and portlyanalyst (Wolliaston).

His drugged-out lawyer(Girardot) tells him that whole episode might help him evade taxes for a year,while his parents (Roussillon and Rouvel) suggest it wouldn't hurt to have hisover-excited personality looked at. Finally, his sister (film director NoemiLvovsky, once Desplechin's writing partner) accuses him of neglect and actingjust as weirdly and eccentrically as her other brother.

The stories converge whenthe stable and reliable Nora asks the unstable and excitable Ismael to adoptElias, who is now responding negatively to her future husband.

But there is much more incommon between these two stories that this. Both offer variations on themesDesplechin has often explored before, most particularly family relationships.In each it is also easy to detect his preference for people who may be slightlyderanged but who have no problem revealing themselves as such, in contrast tothose who draw the heavy curtains and hide away.

Written with Roger Bohbot inthe tradition of the classic French novel, with a large cast of characterscoming, going and engaging in a running self-analytic commentary, Kings AndQueen re-confirms Desplechin's position as a worthy follower of the old NewWave traditions, inspired by the likes of Truffaut and Rivette.

His free and easy tone,evolving from his use of roving camera, frequent jump cuts and completelyunselfconscious juxtaposition of past and present, real and imaginary, are apleasure to watch for the first hour.

But after that it proves toomuch and, while all the complexity finally begins to make sense during thefinal half hour, many audiences are likely to have become exhausted by thispoint.

Old Desplechin hands likeEmmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric show no problems fitting in: the formercleverly reveals how, under Nora's prim demeanour, there lurks an egotisticalmonster; the latter turns Ismael into an endearing weirdo who is perfectlyconscious of his limitations.

Of the others, CatherineDeneuve is vastly entertaining as a cutting, glacial shrink, Maurice Garrellends considerable weight to the role of the old writer and Elsa Wolliaston isa most unexpected analyst.

Solid support comes fromEric Gautier's fluid camerawork and Laurence Briaud's willingness to ignoreediting rules in order to jar and unsettle the audience complacency.

Prod cos: Why Not Productions, France 2 Cinema, Rhone-AlpesCinema
Int'l sales:
Wild Bunch
Pascal Caucheteux
Arnaud Desplechin, RogerBohbot
Eric Gautier
Laurence Briaud
Prod des: Dan Bevan
Main cast:
Emmanuelle Devos,Mathieu Amalric, Maurice Garrel, Catherine Deneuve, Nathalie Boutefeu,Jean-Paul Roussillon, Catherine Rouvel, Magali Woch, Hyppolite Girardot, NoemiLevovsky, Elsa Wolliaston