Monday, March 07, 2011


Originally Written and Posted at on 5/17/08.

French director Olivier Assayas is known for his prolific styles of filmmaking whether its exploring teen angst, film satire, mystery, or straightforward drama. Assayas is considered to be one of France's premier directors of the 1990s and so on as he also admitted to his appreciation towards Asian cinema. In 1998, he married Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung whom he has collaborated with in 1996's Irma Vep. Yet in 2001, the couple divorced though their relationship was still amicable for their 2004 collaboration in the drug abuse drama Clean.

Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, Clean tells the story of a former video jockey whose relationship with a musician takes a troubling turn as they succumb to drug addiction. Upon a tragic moment where she is discovered with heroin, she goes to jail, loses custody of her child, and then tries to redeem herself while trying to pursue a career as a singer. With Maggie Cheung in the leading role, the film is an exploration of addiction and redemption. Also starring Nick Nolte, Beatrice Dalle, Jeanne Balibar, Don McKellar, Martha Henry, James Johnston of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, James Dennis, and Emily Haines. Clean is a harrowing yet provocative film from Olivier Assayas on redemption.

Emily Wang (Maggie Cheung) for several years has been trying to help her lover musician Lee Hauser (James Johnston) as his music career is at an all-time low. With no deal and all the connections running out, they turn to their already troubling addiction to heroin. With their son Jay (James Dennis) living in Vancouver with Lee's parents Albrecht (Nick Nolte) and Rosemary (Martha Henry), Lee and Emily are still struggling. When one of their friends in Vernon (Don McKellar) has an offer to help Lee with a deal, Emily turns it down as Vernon along with the band Metric led by Emily Haines believe that Emily is the reason for Lee's decline. Following an argument about drugs and their troubling lifestyle, Emily walks out of their motel room as she does heroin in their car where she passes out. The next morning as she wakes up, police arrive where she learns that Lee had died of an overdose while she was arrested for possession.

When Albrecht and Rosemary hears the news of Lee's death, they're distraught as Albrecht is now dealing with Lee's estate as well as what's left of his music career. Emily is sent to prison for six months as Albrecht and Vernon handle Lee's business. Following her release, Emily meets Albrecht as she reveals she's on methadone as Albrecht asks if she stays away from Jay for a while. Emily moves to Paris to begin a new life though her methadone intake has taken a toll. After meeting Jean-Pierre (Remi Martin), she tries to get him to send a letter to one of Lee’s old friends Tricky as she reconnects with her old friend Elena (Beatrice Dalle). Emily reveals she's made demos of music with a friend named Gloria (Jodi Crawford) as Elena listens where she helps her get contact with a former employer named Irene Paolini (Jeanne Balibar). After being snubbed by Irene, she finds comfort in Irene's lover Sandrine (Laetitia Spigarelli) who had been a fan of Emily in her old days as a video jockey.

Still working a Chinese restaurant, Irene finally meets with her but the conversation goes nowhere as she moves in with Elena while getting a job selling clothes. Meanwhile in London, Albrecht and Jay accompany Rosemary for treatment as she had fallen ill. With Albrecht concerned for Rosemary's health and Jay's well-being, he realizes that the boy has to be with his mother no matter what Rosemary had told Jay about her. With Emily now clean and no longer on methadone, she becomes more determined to clean herself fully for her son. When Albrecht decides to go to Paris with Jay for a visit, Emily is ecstatic to see her son until a call from Gloria where she revealed to have gotten some sessions with David Roback of Mazzy Star in San Francisco. Unsure of what to do, she decides to see Jay, though he is reluctant to see her where she turns to Albrecht for help about what to do where he gives her a choice to think about her own future as well as her future with Jay.

Assayas' eerie yet moody take on a woman's journey from rock bottom to redemption is truly mesmerizing as his script reveals the affect of the death of this man and how his lover is trying to find ways to redeem herself in front of her son and her father-in-law. The film has an added subplot that involves Albrecht and how he's trying to deal things where unlike his wife who blames Emily for her son's death. Albrecht is aware that Lee is at fault for his own actions and is willing to forgive Emily for her own actions. While the screenplay is superb, it's the direction of Olivier Assayas that is spellbinding. With dreamy images, intimate settings, and observant camera, it's clear that Assayas is creating a film, though harsh and unsettling, that is all about mood as he unveils a harrowing portrait of redemption where the ending is complex yet emotional.

Cinematographer Eric Gautier adds a wonderful moodiness with his camera that includes stark colors for the film’s eerie, exterior settings in the daytime scenes in Canada, Paris, and London. The nighttime scenes in Paris are more colorful including some great interior shots with different array of colors. Gautier's photography is superb in every frame as he captures the tone of each scene in the film. Editor Luc Barnier does wonderful work in the film's editing with the use of jump-cuts and fade-outs to add a unique rhythm and style to the film. Production designers William Fleming and Francois-Renaud Labarthe do superb work in the different location and settings for the film as well as the French apartments that Emily visits. Costume designer Anais Roman does nice work with the costumes that range from rock-star like clothing to more casual, street clothing to convey the mood of the characters throughout the film. Sound designers Roman Dymny, Nicolas Moreau, and Daniel Sorbino add to the film's moodiness with on location sound work for the streets as well as the concert scenes shown.

Music composer David Roback of the Rain Parade and Mazzy Star brings a dreamy, moody score to the film while contributing original songs that are sung by Maggie Cheung herself. Additional contributions for the film's soundtrack comes from Tricky, Luna's Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, Joey Ramone, and a lot of cuts from Brian Eno in his various periods including his collaborations with David Byrne, Daniel Lanois, and Roger Eno. The music of Brian Eno works to convey the melancholia of Emily's character as it's used greatly.

The cast is truly superb with an array of appearances from David Roback, the band Metric led by Emily Haines of Broken Social Scene, and Tricky as himself. James Johnston of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is excellent as Lee Hauser, a struggling musician who is having problems with Emily that would lead to his own death. Jodi Crawford is good in her brief role as Emily's music collaborator Gloria while Laetitia Spigarelli is also good as Irene's secretary/girlfriend Sandrine who is a big fan of Emily in her old VJ days. Remi Martin is fine in his role as Emily’s old friend Jean-Pierre who helps her give a letter to Tricky while Don McKellar is superb as Lee's friend Vernon who handles his affairs after his death while giving Emily her cut. Jeanne Balibar is excellent as Emily's former employer Irene who seems to be unhelpful as she has become disenchanted with everything only to conform to corporate leanings.

James Dennis is great as Jay, the little boy who is unaware about his mother only to be told lies about her as he tries to figure out why she wasn't there for him. Martha Henry is good as Rosemary, an ill woman who is so heartbroken over her son's death, she couldn't bear but to hate Emily for what happened to her son. Beatrice Dalle is excellent in a supporting role as Elena, an old friend who helps out Emily while giving her a home and guidance on what she has to do for her career. The film's best supporting performance truly goes to Nick Nolte as Albrecht, Lee's father who provides a sense of wisdom and support for Emily as he helps her try to redeem herself as his character is the one with a huge conscience and the one with moral value.

The film's best performance truly goes to Maggie Cheung who would win the Best Actress prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival for this film. Cheung's performance is magnificent from start to finish as she speaks English, French, and a variation of Chinese in the film as she plays a woman who is very flawed and then, tries to redeem herself. Though Cheung's beauty is definitely striking to watch, it's how she sells herself through the performance where the result is truly raw and also unsettling. Cheung also display subtlety to some heavy emotional scenes as she restrains herself in the performance while also displaying greater talent in her singing that is true to the film's mood. If there's one real highlight of this film, it's Maggie Cheung.

Clean is a harrowing yet engrossing film from Olivier Assayas led by the sprawling performance of Maggie Cheung. Fans of the work of Assayas and Cheung will no doubt consider this as essential while the film also includes an amazing supporting turn from Nick Nolte. While the film might be harrowing, it's subject matter is truly universal while both Assayas and Cheung create a film that is accessible yet arty. In the end, Clean is gratifying film that shows a woman's attempt to seek redemption for her actions and trying to find a new hope.

Olivier Assayas Films: (Disorder) - (Winter’s Child) - (Paris Awakens) - (A New Life) - (Cold Water) - (Irma Vep) - (Late August, Early September) - (Sentimental Destinies) - (Demonlover) - (Boarding Gate) - Summer Hours - Carlos - (Something in the Air) - Clouds of Sils Maria - Personal Shopper

© thevoid99 2011

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