×

Clean

While Olivier Assayas' "Clean" has the alluring visual texture of his best work and is far more accessible than 2002's "Demonlover," this story of a rock widow struggling to kick drugs and win back the affection of her son is pallid and unconvincing. Despite being written for her, the director's "Irma Vep" muse Maggie Cheung seems oddly miscast.

With:
Emily Wang - Maggie Cheung Albrecht Hauser - Nick Nolte Elena - Beatrice Dalle Irene Paolini - Jeanne Balibar Vernon - Don McKellar Rosemary Hauser - Martha Henry Lee . - James Johnston Jay - James Dennis Jean-Pierre - Remi Martin Sandrine - Laetitia Spigarelli

While Olivier Assayas’ “Clean” has the alluring visual texture of his best work and is far more linear and accessible than 2002’s convoluted “Demonlover,” this story of a rock widow struggling to kick drugs and win back the affection of her estranged son is dramatically pallid and unconvincing. Despite being written for her, the director’s “Irma Vep” muse Maggie Cheung seems oddly miscast here and is ill-served by an emotionally underpowered screenplay that rarely gets beneath the surface of the character’s problems. Assayas loyalists in the critical corps inevitably will get behind his 10th feature, but a marginal commercial profile appears likely.

Like “Demonlover,” this more conventional new drama is again in English and French — with a smattering of Cantonese — and is set and shot between Canada, Paris, London and San Francisco. Opening drops in on some intense friction between faded ’80s rock star Lee Hauser (James Johnson) and his wife Emily (Cheung) in Hamilton, Canada, as they thrash out seemingly well-worn conflicts stemming from his stalled career and their mutual drug dependency.

Popular on Variety

The music press and Lee’s associates in the business tend to pin his downfall on Emily’s addiction, a view consolidated when Lee dies of a heroin overdose and Emily is imprisoned for possession. The couple’s young son Jay (James Dennis) lives with Lee’s parents Albrecht (Nick Nolte) and Rosemary (Martha Henry) in Vancouver. When Emily is released after six months still strung out on methadone, she meets Albrecht and agrees to stay away from Jay, instead returning to Paris to pull her life together.

Back in France, Emily gets a waitressing job in her uncle’s Chinese restaurant and a room in the house of her loyal friend Elena (Beatrice Dalle). But despite minor celebrity status from a veejay stint in the early days of French cable, she finds that world changed and unwelcoming. Her old boss and former lover Irene (Jeanne Balibar) is insincere and self-absorbed, too caught up with girlfriend problems to help Emily find work. And a demo tape of songs Emily recorded in prison sparks little interest. But she finds the backbone to tear up her methadone prescription and stay clean, slowly focusing on salvaging her relationship with her son.

A window opens toward that reconnection when Jay is taken by his grandparents to London, where Rosemary is to undergo treatment for a terminal illness. Aware that he’s unable to take care of the boy himself, Albrecht goes against his wife’s wishes and takes Jay to Paris for a weekend with his mother, who’s still popping painkillers and struggling with emotional uncertainty over her choices.

While the French section is more robust than the stilted drama of the Canadian opening, Assayas’ undernourished screenplay merely states the conflicts in Emily’s life and then repeats them without any real depth of exploration. In the same way the film suffers from superficial occupancy of the music and drug scenes, Cheung never inhabits her character with much conviction and too often seems under-rehearsed.

Providing a voice of reason and compassion in the drama, Albrecht is the vehicle for a somewhat automatic note of hope and healing in the final stretch. But Nolte’s understated work overcomes the script’s fragile construction. The actor’s weathered appearance and the weight of loss and sadness being carried by the character make his the most emotionally resonant performance in the otherwise low-wattage film.

Though less ravishing than his lensing of Cannes competition stablemate “The Motorcycle Diaries,” d.p. Eric Gautier’s widescreen camerawork impresses with its sinuous grace, its constant, urgent mobility and striking depth of field, particularly in the crowded Paris environments and in a dynamically shot stage performance by singer Emily Haines and rock band Metric in the opening scenes. Keen use is made of compositions by ambient music maestro Brian Eno.

Clean

Competing / France-U.K.-Canada

Production: An ARP Selection release (France) of a Rectangle Prods. (Paris), Haystack Prods. (U.K.), Rhombus Media (Canada), Arte France Cinema production in association with Matrix Film Finance, the Film Consortium, U.K. Film Council, the Works, with participation of Canal Plus, CNC. (International sales: The Works, London.) Produced by Edouard Weil, Xavier Giannoli, Xavier Marchand, Niv Fichman. Directed, written by Olivier Assayas.

Crew: Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Eric Gautier; editor, Luc Barnier; music, David Roback, Tricky, Brian Eno; production designer, Francois-Renaud Labarthe, Bill Fleming; costume designer, Anais Romand; sound (Dolby SR/DTS), Guillaume Sciama, Herwig Gayer, Bill Flynn, Daniel Sobrino; assistant director, Matthew Gledhill; casting, Antoinette Boulat, Shaheen Baig, John Buchan, Millie Tom. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 20, 2004. Running time: 111 MIN.

With: Emily Wang - Maggie Cheung Albrecht Hauser - Nick Nolte Elena - Beatrice Dalle Irene Paolini - Jeanne Balibar Vernon - Don McKellar Rosemary Hauser - Martha Henry Lee . - James Johnston Jay - James Dennis Jean-Pierre - Remi Martin Sandrine - Laetitia SpigarelliWith: Tricky, Liz Densmore, David Roback, Emily Haines. (English, French and Cantonese dialogue)

More Film

  • Parasite Movie

    'Parasite' Enjoys Record Box Office Boost After Oscar Wins

    Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” is reaping box office riches after its groundbreaking Oscar best picture win. The twisted South Korean thriller collected $5.5 million over the weekend, an exceptional 234% increase in ticket sales and the biggest post-Oscar boost for a best picture winner in the past decade. In the seven days since the Academy [...]

  • Nikita Pearl Waligwa

    Nikita Pearl Waligwa, Actor in Disney's 'Queen of Katwe,' Dies at 15

    Nikita Pearl Waligwa, an actor who appeared in Disney’s biographical drama “Queen of Katwe,” has died, according to BBC and the Ugandan newspaper Daily Monitor. She was 15. Waligwa had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016 and seemed to recover a year later. However, in 2019, another tumor was found. “Queen of Katwe” [...]

  • James Marsden and Sonic (Ben Schwartz)

    'Sonic the Hedgehog' Dominates Box Office With Mighty $57 Million Debut

    Paramount’s family film “Sonic the Hedgehog” ignited over Presidents’ Day weekend with $57 million in North America and $100 million globally, the biggest showing ever for a video game adaptation. “Sonic” is expected to earn $68-70 million through Monday, one of the best results for the holiday weekend. The better-than-expected start is even more notable [...]

  • Shaun the sheep

    How '80s Sci-Fi Films Inspired 'Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon'

    Shaun, everyone’s favorite sheep, is back, and this time he’s facing aliens and robots in “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.” Directors Will Becher and Richard Phelan teamed together on this film for their first full-length collaboration. While the two have been working at Aardman Studios, Phelan’s background was as a story artist and Becher’s [...]

  • Sonic (Ben Schwartz) in SONIC THE

    Box Office: 'Sonic the Hedgehog' Speeding to $65 Million Opening Weekend

    “Sonic the Hedgehog” is speeding to a $65 million opening at the North American box office this President’s Day weekend, according to estimates. Paramount’s action-adventure, based on the Sega video game character, had been pegged to generate $40-45 million prior to its launch. Should estimates hold, it could break the $54 million record set last [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content