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October 14, 2005


Olivier Assayas - 2004
Edko Region 3 DVD

Having seen all of Olivier Assayas' films since Irma Vep, I made a point of seeing Clean. Also, my significant other is a fan of Assayas after seeing Demonlover, so much so, that I got her the special edition DVD of that film. Palm Pictures has the U.S. rights but I don't know their release plans. This is not a visceral film like Demonlover. While more downbeat, Clean has more in common with Assayas earlier films about the dynamics of family relationships.

Maggie Cheung plays the widow of a former rock star who died from a heroin overdose. Cheung also is a junkie. Following her six month in prison, she attempts to clean up her life in order to regain custody of her son. The movie follows her odyssey of revisiting her past before she can create a possible future.

A summery of the narrative makes the film seem like a series of cliches. On a superficial level this may be true. Even having a heroin addict rock star and his Asian wife clearly evokes the legend of John and Yoko. Where Assayas does not take short cuts is in giving his characters their dignity as well as a sense of intelligence and humanity. Nick Nolte has the opportunity to have the kind of multifaceted performance he is denied in other movies as Cheung's father-in-law. By turns Nolte is warm, tough, pragmatic and certainly nobody's fool. Nolte even conveys his character's sense of being a bit above his head at a record company meeting, determining the marketing of his son's albums. Without having to explain himself verbally, one can see that Nolte's character is more comfortable in his remote Canadian town, than dealing with art and business in London. When Cheung's screen son repeats his grandmother's statement that drug addicts are weak, Cheung patiently explains that the reasons for addiction are complicated. Unlike most recent American film that present broad characters and disallow ambiguity, the characters in Clean have individual shadings.

As a movie about the rock music world, the soundtrack is eclectic. Tricky, who I haven't heard in quite a while, appears as himself and is filmed in performance. Three older instrumental pieces from Brian Eno are used. Maggie Cheung also sings, in character, in English, quite well. Interestingly, unlike many of her peers, Cheung isn't a Canto-pop performer such as her Heroic Trio co-star, Anita Mui.

For some comments from Cheung and Assayas at the Cannes Film Festival check here.

Posted by peter at October 14, 2005 09:16 PM


I *really* like this film but haven't convinced any of my friends (all of whom dislike it because they think it's trite). It is a of a piece with his other movies, and I also love his camerawork as always. The Canadian town, Hamilton, is just an hour from where I live and I pass it each time I drive to Toronto. Assayas and Maggie were at my screening and there was a great hour-long Q&A. I love the ending at the San Fran recording studio; the final shot. It was one of my favorite films at TIFF last year.

Posted by: girish at October 15, 2005 07:40 AM