Saturday 16 December 2017

Private life of a French pop icon

Paul Whitington

cloclo

(Club, Light House, 148 minutes)

Director: Florent-Emilio Siri Stars: Jeremie Renier, Benoit Magimel, Josephine Japy, Sabrina Seyvecou

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A sprawling two-and-a-half hour epic of a biopic, Florent-Emilio Siri's Cloclo has caused some controversy in France because of its unsympathetic portrayal of 70s pop star Claude Francois, who remains a beloved icon despite the fact that he's been dead for 34 years.

Whatever about that, it's an entertaining if unsubtle and overlong film that boasts a relentlessly energetic central performance from Belgian actor Jeremie Renier.

Renier is best known for his work in the films of the Dardenne brothers, but he's good here as the driven but controlling Francois.

Born in Egypt on the eve of World War II, Francois grew up in the shadow of his controlling, vindictive father, and the whole family was traumatised when Egypt's seizure of the Suez Canal in 1956 forced them to flee to Monaco.

There the family scrimped, but young Claude dreamed of solving his parents' problems by becoming a wealthy pop star.

He did so by adapting English and American hits for the French market. By the mid-60s, he was wealthy enough to consider setting up his own record label, but he was bitter about the contempt in which he was held by critics and intellectuals, and obsessed with rival Johnny Hallyday.

Siri's film handles its period detail pretty well and is full of impressive musical set pieces.

Renier's portrayal of the oddly camp ladies' man is at times uncanny and his dancing is superb, but his performance remains more of an impression than a characterisation.

The film is pretty hard-hitting in its depiction of Francois's private life, and his cruel, obsessive treatment of women and children. But for all that it remains oddly superficial, which is pretty appropriate if you've ever heard any of Claude Francois's music.

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