Cloclo – film review

Cloclo
Directed by Florent-Emilio Siri
Released on DVD on 3 September 2012

For most of the world Claude ‘Cloclo’ Francois was the little-known co-writer of My Way but in France he was a huge, if flawed, cultural icon.

Though it is one of the most famous songs ever written, performed by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Elvis and Sid Vicious, not many realise that the ultimate narcissistic easy listening classic, ”ËœMy Way’, actually began as the French chanson number ”ËœComme d’habitude’ by Claude François. In the English-speaking world, the co-writer of ”ËœMy Way’, Claude ”ËœCloclo’ François, is the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question, but in France he was a huge cultural icon, a 1960s pop star and a 1970s crooner. He was disparaged by many French critics but was beloved by most of France.

Though not as engrossing or idiosyncratic as Johann Sfar’s marvelous 2010 Gainsbourg biopic, Florent-Emilio Siri’s (Hostage, L’Ennemi intime) generally excellent film never the less captures the mania of his subject’s rapid rise and predictable fall.

Further more, Jérémie Renier (a regular actor for the Dardenne Bros), gives a monumental performance in the title role. Renier’s François is by turns charismatic, vigorous, monomaniacal, exasperating, and strangely sinister.

Claude François is introduced in Siri’s and co-writer Jumien Rappeneau’s extensive and intermittent screenplay as the son of Franco-Italian expatriates living in Egypt, before Nasser took control of the country.

Claude has a turbulent relationship with his curt father (Marc Barbe) but is doted upon by his eccentric, superstitious, gambling-addicted mother (Monica Scattini). Francois quickly showed an aptitude for music, swiping gigs as a bongo player before moving up to the microphone, where his substantial variety of vocal range and spruce dance routines make him a star.

Once he arrives in Paris from St. Tropez, he relentlessly pursues a record executive (Eric Saving) until signing with him for his first hit, ”ËœBelles belles belles’, and then teams up with sensitive manager Paul Lederman (Benoit Magimel) to take over the French airwaves and television screens for the next twenty years with a string of hit records, ranging from rock ”Ëœn’ roll covers of the Everly Brothers and Frankie Valli to disco hits like ”ËœAlexandrie Alexandra’ and ”ËœJe vais a Rio.’

Despite a few impediments along the way, often due to the way he obsessively managed his own empire (which included a modeling agency and a soft porn magazine) and the manner in which he ignored the strain that his frantic existence was having upon his health, Claude Francois continued to be appealing enough to keep his large army of fans rewarded, both creatively and in the flesh (as the film discloses, his conquests including Serge Gainsbourg’s teenage discovery France Gall) until his weird death at the age of 39, trying to mend a light bulb in the bath in 1978, sparking mass lamentation across the French speaking world.

Renier is peculiarly moving as the luckless idol whose resolve to win love, which was so maliciously denied him by his father, by calculating every facet of his existence, leaves him increasingly alienated.

Rappeneau, Siri and Renier illustrate how the talented Claude Francois was really an extremely disturbed person, unremittingly motivated to establish his value to a severe patriarch contemptuous of the show business world, yet all the while personifying his detestable father’s venomous qualities, as a controlling, vain egotist.

Jérémie Renier is not only an eerie double for Cloclo (the moniker that François’s fans gave him) but delineates a remarkable performance, from frenzied puppet-style dance routines to capricious superstar bad behavior.

Vividly capturing way the French yé-yé pop music scene incorporated much Afro-American music and style of the period (one of the best scenes in the picture is when Francois watches Otis Redding perform at the Roundhouse in London in 1967) Cloclo reaches a high point with Siri’s depiction of the creation of ”ËœComme d’habitude’ in the late 1960’s.

Like Claude Francois’ career, Siri’s film never reaches these heights again in its depiction of the last eight years of Cloclo’s life. Yet Cloclo, the movie, has all the sweep and epic style of a classic Scorsese picture and is definitely more than a cut above the tradition showbiz biopic. Consequently, it is more than well worth watching.

All words by Ian Johnston. You can read more from Ian on LTW here.

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