Theme of obsessive love between an adolescent and a grown woman, played out at inordinate length in helmer Emmanuelle Bercot's first feature is reprised in tighter, more powerful form in "Backstage," with a gender twist. This time the adolescent is a female pop groupie, whose whole being revolves around a remote diva.

Theme of obsessive love between an adolescent and a grown woman, played out at inordinate length in helmer Emmanuelle Bercot’s first feature, “Clement” (2001), is reprised in tighter, more powerful form in “Backstage,” with a gender twist. This time the adolescent is a female pop groupie, whose whole being revolves around a remote diva, herself as emotionally screwed-up as her fan. Often played at full tilt, but anchored by a compulsively watchable performance by Isild Le Besco as the star-struck teen, this could enjoy niche biz offshore as a cult item, with the Sapphic undercurrents an added hook.

Smalltown high school student Lucie (Le Besco) goes into meltdown when her mother arranges a surprise (but televised) visit to her home by Blondie-like songstress Lauren Waks (Emmanuelle Seigner, regally remote), who sings the gobsmacked Lucie a love song up close and personal. For Lauren, it’s just an annoying media opportunity before being whisked by her limo back to Paris; for Lucie, whose bedroom walls are covered with the thrush’s pics, it’s like a visit from a goddess.

That night, Lucie runs away to the capital, camps outside Lauren’s hotel and manages to bamboozle her way into the star’s suite. Initially given five minutes by Lauren’s hardnosed p.a., Juliette (Noemie Lvovsky), Lucie ends up staying on, running personal errands for the mixed-up megastar, who’s all in a dither over being chucked by her latest b.f., Daniel (Samuel Benchetrit).

Combo of Le Besco’s wild-eyed playing and director Bercot’s naturalistic camera style makes Lucie’s gradual penetration of Lauren’s world seem strangely convincing. When Lucie meets Daniel by chance, she starts plotting to get him and Lauren together again — but not for the obvious reason.

With its booming soundtrack of songs — written by Laurent Marimbert and sung by Seigner herself — and good chemistry between Le Besco and Seigner, pic at times has an operatic emotional intensity that will turn off some viewers but provide a guilty pleasure for others.

However, in its own way, the film does tap into the emotional dependency on both sides of celebrity culture. It also benefits enormously by leaving the exact attraction of Lucie for Lauren a blurred mixture of adolescent admiration and hormonal attraction that’s never purely sexual. Pic’s one overt sex scene startlingly muddies these waters even more, while forming a bridge into the bizarre final act.

Good supporting perfs, especially by Lvovsky as the long-suffering p.a. and Valery Zeitoun as Lauren’s patient manager, provide a balance to the central relationship. Largely handheld lensing by Agnes Godard has a dull, underlit look, except in the concert sequences.

Backstage

France

Production

A Haut & Court release and production, in association with CMW Film Co. (Germany) and Arte France Cinema, with participation of Canal Plus and Cinecinema. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta. Co-producers, Christoph Meyer-Wiel, Lillian Birnbaum. Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot. Artistic collaboration, Guillaume Schiffman. Screenplay, Bercot, Jerome Tonnerre.

Crew

Camera (color), Agnes Godard; editor, Julien Leloup; music, Laurent Marimbert; lyrics, Marine Bercot; art director, Eric Barboza; costume designers, Gil Lesage, Jean-Marc Mirete; sound (Dolby Digital), Pierre Andre, Gael Nicolas, Jean-Pierre Laforce, Stephane Thiebaut; associate producers, Simon Arnal-Szlovak, Barbara Letellier; assistant director, Sebastien Matuchet; casting, Antoinette Boulat. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (non-competing), Sept. 7, 2005. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 115 MIN.

With

Emmanuelle Seigner, Isild Le Besco, Noemie Lvovsky, Valery Zeitoun, Samuel Benchetrit, Edith Le Merdy, Jean-Paul Walle Wa Wana, Mar Sodupe, Joelle Miquel.
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