Tuesday, 29 July 2008

"The Singer" on DVD. A Review Of The French Film Now ON DVD.

Unfortunately, the fundamental problem with this film is kind of self-evident on the DVD sleeve pictured above. To the left of shot is the gamine, slinky, sexy, drop-dead gorgeous babe that is Cecile de France. Then to her left is the fat-as-a-fool, false and past-his-sell-by-date Gerard Depardieu playing an aging Charles Aznavour-type crooner called Alain Moreau reduced to doing nightclubs to make a living. We’re supposed to believe that these two polar opposites would be attracted – she especially to him – she would not! And therein lies the problem. The idea that a woman as attractive as this would fall for such an unattractive slob as him is preposterous.

The idea has potential and would have made a great movie if it had been handled well – an older man has a relationship with a much younger woman, which over time blossoms into a tender and loving understanding (that’s what the trailer suckers you into believing), but they don’t. Unfortunately, you take one look at her and you know that in the real world she would never give this obvious loser the time of day. And of course, it’s in this that the whole movie falls apart.

Then there’s the small matter of the title – The Singer – only the French would cast a man who ‘can’t’ sing in the lead role! Depardieu’s efforts are passable at best, and at other times so obviously mundane and awful that it beggars belief. As if this isn’t stupidity enough to be getting on with, then there’s the subtitled lyrics whose abysmal nature can only be fully appreciated by quoting some of them here; check these out – and remember he and his cheesy band are ‘crooning’ these to an audience of bingo-hall, come-dancing elderly dancers…and her at the table swooning at such elegance!

“….You know the photos of Asia
That I shot on ASA 200
Now that you have gone away
Their bright colours have turned pale -
I thought I heard the blades
Of a seaplane but alas
It’s the fan blades as they pass
In the Police station sky…”

Sweet Jesus! Then she buckles at the table under the giddy romance of it all – oh please!

But the biggest problem is the star himself. Time has not been kind to Depardieu – it’s painfully clear that he’s been way too friendly with one-to-many rich dinners and expensive bottles of wine over the last few decades. On the evidence presented to us here, he’s at a point where his huge frame is dangerously close to being a truly horrible pastiche of the character he’s playing. The man is a heart attack waiting to happen and all that wonderful French charm and romanticism he so effortlessly conjured up in “Green Card” all those years ago has deserted him completely. He looks grotesque at times - and worse – simply disinterested in what he’s doing or whether anyone cares.

But it’s the unbelievable story that grates so much. There’s a scene where it’s the morning after; she’s waking up on the sheets with Depardieu’s character in the bathroom whistling, happy he got his end away the night previous with a young babe – pulling power still intact. We see him in a robe – but only in glimpses – why – because his actual naked massive frame would be so repulsive to any viewer as to give the game away. The idea that any woman would find this lardy lovebucket attractive is just ludicrous and the makers of the film don’t want you to see that, let alone think it. But the problem is that you do think it. We’re just not that easily fooled anymore. You could suspend belief in this tiny anomaly if the movie actually went somewhere, but of course, being a French film, it meanders and ponders and pouts and goes nowhere. And even if there were real insights into Beauty and The Beast or even Age versus Youth, they’re not played out in this screenplay. They spend most of their time in empty houses waffling – homes he’s never going to buy, chances he’s never going to take…

The other problem is the lead actress. De France is stunningly beautiful in a way that only young French starlets can be, but she doesn’t really have the acting chops of say Audrey Tautou. So her good looks also go against her – and undermine what you’re being asked to believe. No woman of her age, beauty and attractiveness to young men would be seen dead in that god-awful divorcees night club, let alone fancy the satin-shirted lothario on stage and then bed him because he plies her with a bottle of champagne!

Which brings me to another point about French films. They’re always about women – no actually they’re not – they’re about ‘beautiful women’ and there’s a huge difference. French cinema seems obsessed with ‘young’ female beauty. The camera lingers on her swan-like neck, the dresses caressing her lithe body, the obligatory tasteful cleavage shots, the pouty lips and porcelain expression focused on again and again and again… It’s almost as if French men don’t like women per se, they want to own them, possess them, and then trade in the old ones for new ones when they get the chance, rather than love them for what they are or even treat them as equals. Then the male characters are either weeds or rakes, when it’s very difficult to abide either.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t ‘hate’ French movies, I don’t! I just find them infuriatingly pretentious at times, distant and for the most part wildly unrealistic. But worse - they don’t move me. When I think of the tenderness and genuine magic in “Once” made on a shoestring of a budget in Dublin, but with real heart and genuinely affecting music, and then I look at “The Singer” and I hear nor see either. It's easy to impress, but it’s a whole different ball game to move someone. And for a country and people so closely associated with romanticism and love, French Cinema seems extraordinarily incapable of evoking either at the moment. Time and time again, their films have this almost sick voyeurism about them, they observe the feelings, but never get immersed in them nor offer insights.

In other posted reviews, viewers feelings towards this film varied between 1 and 5 stars – some loathed it/others loved it. Personally, it bored me rigid and then made me angry. I’ve seen some stunning French movies of late, “La Vie En Rose”. “Moliere”, “36” and “8 Women” jump to find, but they’re countered with so many turkeys like this and “Dans Paris” and ”Venus Beauty” – ponderous pretentious crap most of it.

I’m not writing this review so much as a slag off of the movie, but more as a heartfelt plea. French Cinema needs to regain its artistic and emotional soul and stop producing navel-gazing pap like “The Singer”.

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