Had Ingmar Bergman not already claimed it, “Scenes from a Marriage” would be a proper title—indeed, a better one—for Maiwenn’s “Mon Roi,” which charts various stages in a relationship from first meeting to post-divorce, situating all of them against the backdrop of the ex-wife’s slow recovery from a knee injury due to a ski accident that, her therapist suggests, embodied her inability to move forward from her failed marriage. In principle the structure is a sound one, even if the metaphorical use of the rehabilitation conceit is clumsily heavy-handed.
The problem with the film, for this viewer at least, is that the lead characters are so totally obnoxious that it’s difficult to muster any concern about them; if one has any sympathy at all, it’s for their families, and particularly their son. Their relatives have to put up with an awful lot, and so do we.
He is Georgio (Vincent Cassel), a supposedly charismatic restaurateur who’s handsome and energetic, but also abrasively brash, insensitive and so full of himself that it’s hard to believe that his fashionable clothes can actually fit his outsized persona. For some reason lawyer Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot) is irresistibly drawn to him when they meet at a bar, despite the fact that her brother Solal (Louis Garrel), who’s there with his girlfriend (Isild Le Besco), has serious reservations about the guy. The first quarter of the picture—some thirty minutes in all—are devoted to the supposedly joyous courtship, with lots of scenes of both acting like idiots in the presence of perfect strangers and laughing uproariously at how unconventional they are.
Then they marry, and a major—and lingering—problem immediately arises. Georgio has an ex-girlfriend, a model named Agnes (Chrystele Saint-Louis Augustin), who remains obsessed with him, to the point of doing harm to herself when forced to accept that she has no hope of retrieving their relationship. Georgio insists that he must look after her, and that becomes a constant in the marriage. Tony is understandably irked, but puts up with what appears to be a ménage a trois with whatever equanimity she can muster.
Things improve somewhat when Tony becomes pregnant, but Agnes remains in the picture, and after another, increasingly frequent row, Georgio decides to take a nearby apartment for himself to give them time apart. This is obviously not a great idea, as Tony will realize when she finds him in bed there with another woman. There’s also an odd sequence in which men appear at Tony’s place to repossess the couple’s furniture: apparently he’s encountered financial reverses that go unexplained. In addition, there are multiple references to wild drug and alcohol use, though they are also too elusive to pin down.
Though the birth of their son makes for a brief return of their old marital enthusiasm—the movie generally avoid sappiness, but in the post-birthing moments “Mon Roi” is as syrupy as any Hollywood panegyric to parenthood—matters soon deteriorate again. Georgio demands complete freedom to do as he likes (including giving Agnes access to the infant, whom he insists on naming Sinbad—or is it, as the subtitles say, Simbad?), and expects Tony to defer to his wishes. Divorce seems the only option, but he can turn on a dime from being reasonable (about custody, for instance) to being menacing, and Tony’s continued infatuation with him, despite Solal’s keen comments about how poisonous their relationship is, causes her to go back to him. That’s a choice that any sane observer will see as unhinged.
Still, a breakup is ultimately inevitable, as well as Georgio’s on-again, off-again (and extremely jealous) efforts to rekindle their romance, and afterward comes the ski accident. We’ve watched Tony’s slow, painful recovery from it (and from her psychological problems) periodically throughout the film, in a cascade of sequences showing her spending time with other patients (all of them much younger men), and now we will witness the almost businesslike contempt with which Georgio treats her upon her return.
One must acknowledge the many strong points to the film. Maiwenn adopts the cinematically exuberant style familiar from French New Wave classics, fashioning brief sequences that have the feel of improvisation, and cinematographer Claire Mathon and editor Simon Jacquet fulfill her vision with elan. Both Bercot and Cassel give ferocious performances, juxtaposing scenes of raucous celebration with others of furious anger or grim resignation. Both Georgio and Tony are highly histrionic figures, and the stars are more than willing to sink their teeth into scenes in which they go utterly over-the-top (Cassel has more of them, but one in which Bercot screams and brays hysterically while accusing him in front of his clique of friends at an outdoor meal shows that she’s no slouch at such moments, either).
While recognizing the skill of the filmmakers on both sides of the camera, however, you still have to wonder whether anyone will get pleasure from watching this train wreck of a relationship. Yes, there are bad marriages, and yes, people suffer miserably from them. But it doubtful that any enlightenment is to be gleaned from observing such a grotesquely self-absorbed man and a self-abasing woman, who’s only marginally more sympathetic than he is, rip one another to shreds over the years. For all the obvious craftsmanship and powerful acting in “Mon Roi,” you might find the two hours you spend with such insufferable characters as Georgio and Tony a chore to endure. You might admire the film, but it’s hard to imagine anybody really enjoying it.