|A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Xavier Giannoli, 2006, France, 112mins, French with subtitles
Cast: GÉRARD DEPARDIEU, CÉCILE DE FRANCE, Mathieu Almaric
Alain Moreau (Depardieu) is a cheesy, yet likeable dance hall singer. A cynic might call him a low rent Sacha Distel, but Alain is quite content performing in third-rate nightclubs and old folk’s homes, until he sees beautiful, young, estate agent Marion (De France) in the audience. Their one-night-stand turns sour the next morning when Marion, seemingly embarrassed and regretful, flees. A single mother with an unhappy past, Marion is cautious and untrusting, but Alain uses house hunting as an excuse for their frequent meetings in empty homes. As Alain talks of his past, his regrets, a tentative relationship develops between the two. But Alain’s friend Bruno (Almaric) is interested in Marion too…
A low-key charmer, like its title character, The Singer is also that rare thing: a genuinely touching, grown up, love story that never resorts to cliché. May-December romances are sometimes shallow in mainstream movies, but French filmmakers have a knack for revealing hidden depths. Giannoli crafts a poetic ode to lost souls and broken dreams, where the romance celebrated in Alain’s campy love ballads provides comfort against life’s disappointments: his failures as a star, Marion’s anxieties as a mother. The film isn’t perfect, meandering occasionally and at times rather vague. After a row in which Alain calls Marion “an easy lay”, suddenly it’s the next day and they’re friends again.
Yet its strengths far outweigh such lapses. The interplay between Depardieu and De France is magical, both actors slipping into their characters with consummate ease, making the love story that much more compelling and believable. Giannoli has keen eye for stolen glances, gestures and subtle nuances in his actors’ performances. De France keeps Marion pleasingly spiky, never quite ready to melt into Alain’s arms and keeps far away from that “romantic comedy moment” where the girl traditionally realises ‘he’s the one’. Almaric excels as a credible rival, decent guy able to laugh off their romantic predicament. The “What’s your porn star name?” scene between him and De France is a standout.
Depardieu essentially gives two performances. Onstage, crooning some vintage Euro lounge he captures the tragicomic pathos lurking beneath the cheesiest love ballad. L’Anamour and some Serge Gainsbourg numbers induced a – rather embarrassing – twinge of nostalgia in this reviewer, and Depardieu’s sincerity might convince others they love them too (Go on, admit it!). Offstage, subdued and sad-eyed, Depardieu portrays a lonely man, yearning to unburden himself, yet reluctant to venture beyond the world he knows: gaudy nightclubs, joyless restaurants and demeaning gigs for elderly audiences who barely listen. All brilliantly captured by Giannoli in excruciating detail. But this is not a satire. Giannoli appreciates the dance halls as just another area of life and Depardieu imbues Alain with fragile dignity. Thankfully, he did not retire as he promised last year, because between this and 36 (2006), one of cinema’s greatest actors is back on form.