Sunday, May 20, 2012

FIAF hosts NYC debut of Florent-Emilio Siri's CLOCLO, starring a startling Jérémie Renier

Musical bio-pics tend to run pretty true to form, from Walk the Line and Coal Miner's Daughter (in the country music variety) to those about celebs on the order of Elvis and Garland, often made for TV audiences. Occasionally comes along an unusual biopic (the recent Gainsbourg is one example), but generally they all tend to be obvious in the extreme, too lengthy for anything they might have to say, and adoring, while pretending to show us warts-and-all. However, the audience for the May 9th "sneak preview" screening of the new French film CLOCLO, which took place at Florence Gould Hall, courtesy of the French Institute/Alliance Française (FIAF), got an interesting taste of what a musical biopic looks like when directed by a leading "action" filmmaker.

The man in question is Florent-Emilio Siri, at left, who gave us a The Nest and Hostage (two fine action films) and Intimate Enemies (one of the great modern war films, in which he used his action techniques to excellent effect). Now, he does something similar with Cloclo, the birth-to-death story of Claude François, nick-named Cloclo, a famous French performer of the 60s and 70s (unknown to TrustMovies until now), who appears to have had a similar effect on young ladies as that certain Mr. Presley did on American girls.

I'll have a lot more to say about this striking and consistently interesting movie once it opens here. (Its French distributor, Canal Plus, is said to be currently in negotiations with an American distributor.) For now I will simply tell you that the film sparkles with visual beauty and invention (Cloclo was born in Egypt and, once famous, lived rather high on the hog, so expect some sumptuous settings and fab costumes and decor).

The film also, while covering the standard tropes of the genre, moves surprisingly quickly, as M. Siri bounces from event to event, place to place, carrying us along with him in brisk, frisky fashion. I suspect this has a lot to do with the very fine co-screenwriter and provider of smart dialog, Julien Rappeneau, all of whose work that I've seen, I've loved: Bon Voyage, 36th Precinct, Paris 36 and Largo Winch.

The music is sensational, by the way. Because Cloclo wrote some of his songs but also covered the work of others, you're going to hear some very familiar tunes, done dandily. Other people also covered Cloclo's wortk -- the most spectacular case being Frank Sinatra's My Way, which M. François originally wrote as Comme d'habitude -- a version whose lyrics strike TM as infinitely smarter than the self-serving sentimentality of the Sinatra version (the lyrics of which were written by Paul Anka). They say that no song in history has been recorded as often in as many languages as this one (well, what performer can resist a good ego trip!), and for that reason alone, the movie seems worthy of an American release.

Additionally, the François/Cloclo story is a good one, and it gives the actor Jérémie Renier another great role to savor -- which he does, and then some. He sings (just two songs, he lip-syncs the rest to Cloclo's voice), dances with aplomb and pizzazz, and generally comports himself like a coddled superstar, while capturing plenty of intimate moments from a career that was, on balance and despite a life in the spotlight, a bit darker than bright, sadder than joyous.

M. Renier has impressed audiences ever since the Dardennes brothers used him as the child in The Promise (they've used him again and again, ever since, most recently in The Kid With the Bike). His versatility -- The Brotherhood of the Wolf to Private Property, Potiche to the recent A Heavenly Vintage -- is pretty extraordinary, and if he were not so young, I'd say that Cloclo might be the capper to his career. But, no, he's got a lot more good stuff in store for us, I'll wager.

I hope those negotiations are moving ahead, full-tilt. It would be a shame if American arthouse audiences are deprived of learning about the life of this unusual entertainer -- and seeing what a surprising choice of director can do with a project seemingly far outside of his usual genre.

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