Quand J’étais Chanteur

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Sentimental Song

Depardieu is thoroughly convincing as a mildly successful dance hall singer.

Gérard Depardieu, that workhorse of French cinema (and bull of a man), puts in yet another fine performance in Quand J’étais Chanteur, the story of Alain Moreau, an aging, mildly successful dance-hall singer and reformed alcoholic in the provincial city of Clermont Ferrand.

Alain competently covers all the sentimental French songs for a clientele of divorce(es) and lonely people looking for mates in the dance hall, but he seems to have lost his own joie de vivre. From the stage, he keeps a close eye on the seductions and brawls among the dancers as the champagne flows under the light of the mirror ball.

One night, a young woman turns up in this tacky milieu (brilliantly captured in the film) who patently doesn’t belong there. The beautiful, fresh-faced Marion (Cécile de France), with her gamine haircut, is much younger than the other customers and doesn’t even like the music. She has been taken to the club by her boss, Bruno (Mathieu Amalric), Alain’s real-estate agent. Alain immediately turns on the charm full blast and seduces her.

In the harsh light of the morning after, Marion flees. Alain finds her and chews her out for humiliating him by running away. From this point on, the film wanders as Marion and Alain play a cat and mouse game. While professing to be uninterested in her, Alain claims to be looking for a house to buy and insists that she show him one after another, none of which pleases or even interests him. We gradually learn that Marion has troubles of her own: a broken marriage and a little boy she doesn’t get to see very often.

Director Xavier Giannoli lets this situation drag on far too long. He seems to have wanted to avoid making a clichéd love story, but once he has set up the story with some interesting characters, he doesn’t know where to go with it. He cheats us out of the sentimental rush we might expect from such a setup, but doesn’t replace it with much except lingering shots of Cécile de France’s lovely face and Depardieu’s lovable, craggy mug, leaving this viewer feeling vaguely dissatisfied and a bit bored. I may be in the minority, however, since the French press and public loved this film.

Heidi Ellison

© 2006 Paris Update

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