This article is written by Fung Yun Shan of Asia 361.

If there was ever a film that embodied the phrase “dying inside”, it would be this film.

The film opens with a panoramic view of snow capped mountains, letting you take in its majestic allure, yet with the subtle hint of unexpected danger as our female protagonist, Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot), begins skiing down the icy slopes. The film, Mon Roi, which translates to My King, is a romantic dramatic film directed by Maïwenn about Tony’s toxic relationship with, you guess it, her King. That man is Georgio, played by none other than the resident jerk Vincent Cassel (Black Swan), a charismatic restauranteur with irresistible amorous advances.

A complete anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear during that fateful ski down the slopes sets the stage for ample opportunities to reflect on her relationship with Georgio via flashback sequences. Their relationship began when Tony, a lawyer, came onto Georgio by flicking water in his face, a pick up tactic he used on girls at the bar Tony worked when she was younger. “Remember me?” She asked. His face gave no recollection that they ever met, but she got what she wanted as the night culminated with Georgio giving Tony his mobile by literally throwing his phone at her.

We see the extent of Tony’s insecurities in a revealing scene when she starts crying just moments after a climatic finish to their first lovemaking while wearing a bearskin vest, no less. When Georgio asks her what is the matter, Tony asks, “Do you think I am too open?” “Down there?” Ouch. She later reveals that it was her ex-Husband who said it as grounds for leaving her. Of course, Georgio had to top off the scene by saying “I love you”.

Things quickly went downhill from there. Despite Georgio’s charming and funny ways, warning signs started popping up everywhere about his wayward character. In the throes of their passion, she hardly paused to consider that some of those disturbing acts were in fact, red flags. And boy, were the red flags waving. Ex-girlfriend in his life? Check. Drugs? Check. Psychological abuse? Check. Tony’s brother, Solal (Louis Garrel), rightly disapproves of him, but she is blinded to it all.

Oh, what a mess! The flashbacks back and forth parallels Tony’s inability to completely let go of their relationship. Like an addiction, she letting him in even when she knows that he is bad news. But was their relationship just purely a whirlwind romance? Yes and no. To Maïwenn’s credit, she keeps you thinking about it throughout the film.

The film is very well-made and spoke of Maïwenn’s excellent storytelling abilities. It is reminiscent of the relationship regression portrayed in Blue Valentine, with a screenplay and direction that echoed 2013 Cannes Palme d’Or winning French film, Blue is the Warmest Colour. The brilliance stems from how multi-faceted her leads are and the authenticity of how difficult it is to leave a toxic relationship. However, the depth that she gave to Bercot’s Tony was sadly unequal in treatment with Cassel’s Georgio. The chief question that I felt was not very well tackled was why Georgio felt the need to take care of another girl over Tony, much less an ex-girlfriend? Was she his first love? Did she make him into who he is or was it just his innate character? If that question had been carefully explored, this show would have been a truly nuanced piece of work.

While the intensity of the scenes really captured the essence of the relationship, the period of exploration – a decade in total – is admittedly too painfully drawn-out to watch. One scene about their toxic relationship is enough to occupy your mind for days, much less the tedious amount found in the show. However, since the choice allowed for in-depth exploration of issues regarding relationships, divorce and child-rearing – you really cannot complain.

Maïwenn is truly a director ahead of her time. The choice to have Tony be an intellectual lawyer entrapped into such a relationship is a decision to say that anyone could have been her in that situation, making a firm stance on victim-blaming. She made this show into something that is so much more than just teaching you to avoid such a man. A crucial, and I think the best screenplay decision of the entire film, was to have Tony hit on Georgio first instead of the other way around. Convention has it that the sexy, charming man hitting on you in a club is most likely bad for you. But what happens when you were the one who approached him first? Can you really blame yourself for wanting to love and to be loved back by him?

Release Date: 5 May 2016

Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes)
Running Time: 128 minutes

Watch the trailer here: