Queen of "Clean"
Maggie Cheung is a trilingual whirlwind as a mother fighting heroin in Olivier Assayas' "Clean," which drags too much to do justice to its tri-continental performances.
By FRANK EPISALE
(Reviewed at the Hawaii International Film Festival in October 2004.)
The 2004 Louis Vitton Hawaii International Film Festival featured 168
films from 24 countries over the course of 11 days. A stated goal of the
festival is to promote cultural understanding and diversity through
film. Olivier Assayas' "Clean" opened the film festival not only as a nod
to honoree and jurist Maggie Cheung, but as an embodiment of this spirit
of diversity. Set in Ontario, Paris, London and San Francisco and
written in English, French and Cantonese, "Clean," while clearly the
result of a Western production apparatus, feels very much like a film
made by and for 21st century, post-nationalist globe-trotters. Despite
its ambitions and successes, though, the film fails to escape the post-
"new wave" aesthetic malaise that seems to have weighed so heavily on
the French filmmakers for decades now.
"Clean" was written specifically for Cheung, and it's no
surprise that her performance, and the acting in general, are the film's
greatest strength. Cheung won the Best Actress award from the Cannes
Film Festival for her portrayal of Emily Wang, the drug-addled wife of a
washed-up rock star. When her husband (James Johnston) dies, Emily is
sentenced to six months in prison for drug possession. Upon reentering
the outside world, she seeks to establish a healthier relationship with
her young son Jay (James Dennis), who has been living with his paternal
grandparents (Nick Nolte, Martha Henry.) She is informed that she will
not be permitted to see Jay until she makes some progress towards a more
stable life, which she seeks to begin by returning to Paris, where the
bulk of the movie is set.
|Written and directed by: Olivier Assayas.|
Cast: Maggie Cheung, Mary Moulds, Nick Nolte, Bˇatrice Dalle, Jeanne Balibar, Don McKellar, Martha Henry, James Johnston, James Dennis, Rˇmi Martin, Laetitia Spigarelli, David Salsedo, David Roback, Jodi Crawford, Elizabeth Densmore, Emily Haines, Kurtys Kidd, Joana Preiss, Tricky.
Cinematography: Eric Gautier.
Edited by: Luc Barnier.
Music by: Brian Eno, David Roback, Tricky.
In French, English, Cantonese with English subtitles.
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Hawaii Film Festival 2004|
Much of the thrill in watching Cheung work is in the way she
effortlessly moves from setting to setting, from relationship to
relationship, from language to language with such transparency and ease.
Over the course of the film, she speaks English, French and Cantonese
with apparently equal fluency. She works as a waitress, rants at a
publicist at a rock club, holds court in a posh media-industry office,
records a track in a San Francisco movie studio, chases trip-hop star
Tricky through the nightlife scene of Paris, eats burgers with
Nolte at a diner in Canada, takes her son to the zoo. She veers from
heroin stupor to emotional detachment to naked vulnerability without
ever devolving into the showy histrionics so tempting for many actors,
especially in a "recovery" role.|
In tailoring the script so much to showcase his lead
actress, Assayas has failed to provide a tight enough narrative
structure to maintain audience interest. Paradoxically, he's made this
misstep in the most conventional, straightforward film of his career.
The sloppiness that has marred some of his earlier efforts ("Irma Vep,"
"Demonlover") could be chalked up to narrative innovation, but there is no
such innovation here, and despite lovely performances and some beautiful
work from cinematographer Eric Gautier, the film as a whole falls flat.
New Wave directors like Fran¨ois Truffaut and Agn¸s Varda excelled at character explorations that captured the look and feel of Paris while
lovingly following protagonists through slice-of-life narratives that
never quite felt complete because the story neither began nor ended with
what had been captured on film. It feels as though Assayas was trying to
capture a similar magic with "Clean," but it doesn't quite work and we are
left instead with yet another film that is almost, but not quite, really
|NOVEMBER 9, 2004|
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