Acting is the lifeblood of Arnaud Desplechin’s Kings and Queens, a full-bodied melodrama about paternity, filial loyalty, and the constant quest for love, happiness, solace and sanity. Desplechin’s film begins as two concurrent stories about ex-spouses Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) and Ismaël (Mathieu Amalric), the former a single mother dealing with her father’s dwindling health while preparing to be married for the third time, the latter of whom is attempting to escape the mental institution he’s been confined to per the orders of his sister and cousin. At once sprawling and intimate, Desplechin’s near-masterpiece inserts Nora’s confessional, fourth wall-breaking interviews into its flashback-filled plot, creating an intricate, emotionally charged narrative web characterized by its two lead characters’ penchant for “performing” certain roles – dutiful offspring, happily married partner, responsible mother and father – as a means of confronting, or discovering, their true selves. Equal parts theatrical soap opera and incisive character study, Kings and Queen is both leisurely and breathtakingly immediate, and its shocking, heartbreaking poignancy is as much due to Desplechin’s dexterous drawing-room direction and his and Roger Bohbot’s tragicomic script as it is to Devos and Amalric’s stunning performances. Functioning as the film’s complementary yin-yang forces of manic, zany energy (Almaric) and studied, carefully calibrated torment (Devos), the two imbue this epic examination of the relationship between children and parents with a breathtaking regality.