Even though it seems like a fairly conventional dialog-rich character study on the surface, this is really a strange, complex little film, if subtly so. It tells parallel stories of two ex-lovers: Nora (Emanuelle Devos) and Ismael (Mathieu Almaric). Nora's a single mother who is about to be married to Jean-Jacques (Olivier Rabourdin), a successful if dour businessman. Her father, Louis (Maurice Garrel), has just found out he has terminal cancer.

Meanwhile, Ismael is a talented, if unhinged concert violist who has been committed to an asylum. There, he begins an impulsive affair with a fellow suicidal patient, Arielle (Magalie Waloch). Most of this actually plays out like the comedy to Nora's impending tragedy. The two stories eventually entangle when Nora asks Ismael (rather than Jean-Jacques) to legally adopt her son, Elias (Valentin Lelong).

This is the basic plot, but KINGS AND QUEEN veers all over the map, making room for cameos (Catherine Deneuve appears as a weathered yet demure psychiatrist), flashbacks (we learn about the accidental death of Elias' father, Pierre (Joachim Salinger) via memories and possible dream sequences), supporting characters who occasionally steal the show (like Dr. Devereux (the wonderful Elsa Woliaston), Ismael's imposing therapist) and surreal, diverting scenes that seem apropos of the main story.

However, on the whole, Arnaud Despelchin's film is not all that random. Although it often veers between screwball comedy and something approaching grand Shakespearian melodrama, smooth enough to the point where it doesn't feel at all jarring, KINGS AND QUEEN is an intricate set of narrative and atmospheric rhymes--listen for the latter in the musical cues. At 150 minutes, it's about a half-hour too long, but that final half-hour is the film's strongest, especially when the focus is on Ismael (Almaric's performance is nomination-worthy), his family (who are barely seen up to that point), and the touching, masterful conversation he has with Elias.