|Clean - DVD|
Clean comes to us from French director Olivier Assayas. He might be best known in these parts for his film Demonlover, which came to my attention due to its score composed by Sonic Youth. Whereas Demonlover was rather stylized and dabbled in science fiction, Clean is a pretty straightforward and moving tale of struggle. Here, the struggle is with drugs and a struggle for control. Maggie Cheung (who dazzled in In the Mood for Love and 2046) plays Emily, a junkie whose husband Lee, a struggling, aging, punk rocker OD's while they are on the road. After his death, custody of their child, Jay, is granted to his parents. As a result of the OD, Emily is arrested for possession and sentenced to time in prison. The grandfather, Albrecht, played wonderfully by the generally phenomenal Nick Nolte, tells Emily that she best clean herself up if she has any hopes of being a part of the child's life.
After Lee's death, the majority of the people they knew turn their back on Emily. It'd been widely felt that she was hindering his career and now that she appears responsible for his overdose, they don't want anything to do with her. She's posited as a modern Yoko Ono (or, at least, what many assumed was a "Yoko") or, dare I give the name any credence by mentioning it, Courtney Love. The difference here is that Lee is nowhere near as famous as John or Kurt. And no one, fact or fiction, is as useless as Courtney. Once out of prison she goes to Paris in hopes of straightening herself out, getting her life together. She finds herself essentially alone, broke, and hooked. Emily, also an aspiring musician, comes across an opportunity to record some songs with someone she befriended in prison. The woman arranges a session with a somewhat notable producer (he worked with Mazzy Star) in San Francisco. And Emily is also presented with an opportunity to spend time with son while in Paris. The film details her attempts to take her life in some direction and form some sort of relationship with her son. Through a few jobs, Methadone and finding a somewhat stable place to live, she's able to give it a go, ready or not.
The film itself isn't quite a tale of redemption; it's a tale of finding the road to redemption. Cheung nails the lost-yet-not-gone Emily, showing her desperation to develop a relationship of any kind with her son, but also relaying the insecurities of the character, the reality that she isn't quite ready yet. Somehow, Clean manages to be a feel-good story about purification, about kicking a drug habit and trying to clean a life up, without being sappy, trite, gushy or rife with religious undertones. Both Cheung and Nolte emit an honesty that carries much of the film. I wasn't totally sold by Cheung at first, as punk rocker junkie but it turns out that that isn't the whole role anyway. Emily as a whole character ends up being much more than that, and it's there that Cheung shines, as a mother trying to grow beyond her mistakes. This isn't just a voyage to re-connect with her son; it's a shot at connecting for the very first time. The film is beautifully shot, always intriguing to look at, jumping between muted tones, almost brash, unfiltered light and lush colors. Each setting, each actor's portrayal and the mood of each scene are captured with a masterful attention to detail. With a combination of strong performances, nimble direction and an interesting story, Clean is a strong film and surely worth your time.
- Adam Richards | 2006-09-08