It’s not uncommon in movies for the protagonist to be someone who is operating at a level well below their potential, and then the story is about whether and how they’ll mature, improve their moral character, succeed financially, extricate themselves from a bad situation, whatever. I suppose any coming of age story about a teen or young adult changing their life as a result of some new insight and maturity would be an instance of this, though there are many other examples.
In the French film The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De Battre Mon Coeur S’est Arrete in French), what we have is a shady, low level gangster type (Romain Duris) who is a gifted pianist. He has at least some conscious desire to go where his better nature is leading him, which is pursuing music instead of crime.
I’m not a hundred percent clear on the nature of his criminal lifestyle, by the way. I know he vandalizes buildings, releases sacks full of rats in them, etc. when tenants aren’t paying the rent, because it works better than going through cumbersome eviction proceedings. (These are buildings he or his father own, or in some cases perhaps others who hire him own.) But I’m not sure if the destruction is sometimes for other reasons besides non-payment of rent. Like maybe to collect on insurance, or to get people out of rent controlled apartments, or to bring down the price of buildings they’re trying to buy, etc.
I enjoyed this movie’s parts more than its whole. That is, there are several elements, several scenes that are noticeably well done, yet the film itself never grabbed me in a big way.
There are interesting relationships, crisp dialogue, occasional humor, certainly beautiful, beautiful women.
The relationship between Duris and his father is nicely sensitive in its treatment of the way paternalism is gradually shifting to where the son is looking out for the father.
I also enjoyed the fact that the woman who is training Duris for his piano comeback speaks Chinese and no French, and he speaks French and no Chinese, and yet they talk back and forth at the air when they’re together, even at times losing their tempers and berating each other in mutual incomprehension.
The bloody and violent parts of the movie are few, but therefore more striking and effective.
The movie does enough right that I’m inclined to give it at least a mild recommendation.
One more note: The Beat That My Heart Skipped is based on James Toback’s 1978 film Fingers with Harvey Keitel. In looking at reviews of The Beat That My Heart Skipped, I found that both many of those that were favorable and many of those that were unfavorable agreed on one point: that Fingers is as good or better. So if you’re wary of foreign films and having to read subtitles, this may be an instance where an American version is at least as worth checking out anyway.