2 stars (out of four)
American films don't have a monopoly on over-the-top pop idol worship, as we see all too clearly in "Backstage" a fitfully absorbing French film drama about a pop music diva (Emmanuelle Seigner) and her obsessively worshipful fan (Isild le Besco).
The diva is named Lauren Waks--with Seigner singing, but not writing, all her songs--and the fan is provincial teenager Lucie, whose wall is covered with Lauren's posters and who all but swoons at the thought of her goddess. Lucie's mother makes the mistake of somehow talking Lauren's handlers into bringing the star on a surprise visit to Lucie's home, complete with a full-throated romantic ballad sung by Lauren and a reality TV crew recording it--and this dream-come-true stupefies the poor girl, who dissolves into tears, can't talk on camera and ruins the whole bit.
Things get worse. Lucie flees to Paris and somehow talks her way into Lauren's backstage retinue--which includes compassionate personal assistant Juliette (Noemie Lvovsky), tough-but-kind bodyguard Jean-Claude (Jean-Paul Walle Wa Wana ) and all-knowing manager Seymour (Valery Zeitoun)--and then becomes outrageously involved with the star's personal life and ex-boyfriend Daniel (Samuel Benchetrit).
The results aren't gothic and bloody, as they were in the Lauren Bacall film "The Fan," or elegant and ironic as in the Bette Davis classic "All About Eve"--though the plot suggests a bit of both. But from that very first scene, which plays like a berserk fantasy erupting into the movie's "reality," I found "Backstage" almost impossible to believe. And that was despite a charisma-drenched turn by Seigner (Roman Polanski's star and muse in "Frantic" and "Bitter Moon") and an amazingly intense performance by le Besco. Indeed, with her wild, adoring eyes and frenzied body language, le Besco fills the screen with such furious passion and longing that she almost pulls you along.
Emmanuelle Bercot, the director/co-writer, made a stir at Cannes in 2001 with another tale of mad love, "Clement," which was about an affair between a 30-year-old woman (played by Bercot) and a 13-year-old boy. "Backstage" seems even more extreme, and, despite good performances all around, it never regains credibility after that jaw-dropping first sequence. Nor does it quite establish the mixed glamorous-workaday feel and look of the pop music world it's portraying. But le Besco, as a fan who storms her idol's pop palace, almost makes it worthwhile.
Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot; written by Bercot and Jerome Tonnerre; photographed by Agnes Godard; edited by Julien Leloup; sets designed by Eric Barboza; music by Laurent Marimbert ( lyrics by Marine Bercot); produced by Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta. A Strand Releasing release; opens Friday at Landmark Century Centre Cinema. Running time: 1:55. No MPAA rating (sensuality, partial nudity, language and mature themes).
Lauren - Emmanuelle Seigner
Lucie - Isild le Besco
Juliette - Noemie Lvovsky
Seymour - Valery Zeitoun
Daniel - Samuel Benchetrit
Jean-Claude - Jean-Paul Walle Wa WanaCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times