Clean answers a number of burning questions. Burning to someone, just not me.
- Olivier Assayas is an excellent director.
- Olivier Assayas is a terrible writer.
- Maggie Cheung cannot act in English.
- Maggie Cheung cannot sing in English.
- Nick Nolte can survive anything.
I was surprised by numbers 1 and 3. Not so much by the rest.
After creating such a beautiful visual experience, you’d think Assayas would know something about directing actors. He does not. His direction, specifically, of the little kid in the film is astounding. It’s the worst performance of a child actor I’ve witnessed as a reasoning human being. Watching the film, you can see the kid getting direction like: be precocious. It’s awful.
I’ve seen another Assayas film, also starring Cheung (his wife), Irma Vep, but she doesn’t speak English in that one. Assayas seems obsessed with the idea of his wife in a lesbian relationship, introducing the possibility in both these films, but never following through. It’s peculiar, nothing else, and the relationship’s introduced in this film as another of its tangents.
Clean runs about 110 minutes and is filled with needless fade outs (read my recent review of Olga’s Chignon for how transitions ought to be done) and these title cards, telling us the location and the time past. There’s actually one that says “London. A few days later.” Like we couldn’t figure it out.
As a film about someone overcoming drug addiction, Clean is probably the worst. Comparing it to the standards, Clean and Sober and Trainspotting, it’s so ineffective, the drug addiction aspect could be removed and replaced by something and it wouldn’t change a thing. The lead is not a flake because she’s a drug addict. She’s a flake because she’s a flake. The drugs are wholly incidental–my favorite scene, actually, is when she explains why people need to do drugs to her five-year old son.
Cheung actually won the Best Actress award at Cannes for this film and… well, it makes me wonder. What the kind of drugs do the voters at Cannes get? I want some.
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas; director of photography, Éric Gautier; edited by Luc Barnier; produced by Édouard Weil, Xavier Giannoli, Xavier Marchand and Niv Fichman; released by Palm Pictures.
Starring Maggie Cheung (Emily Wang), Nick Nolte (Albrecht Hauser), James Dennis (Jay), Béatrice Dalle (Elena), Jeanne Balibar (Irène Paolini), Don McKellar (Vernon) and Martha Henry (Rosemary Hauser).