EmptyPARIS -- The second biopic of a French cultural icon to appear in rapid succession, Diane Kurys's "Sagan" is unlikely to make the kind of splash achieved by last year's "La Vie en Rose." For one thing, it lacks the stirring songs and classic rags-to-riches storyline that ensured the popular appeal of the Piaf epic. But name recognition, solid production values and a commanding performance by Sylvie Testud as the rebellious writer should attract mature audiences worldwide, if not in vast numbers.
Francoise Sagan's novel "Bonjour Tristesse" (1954), written when she was only 18, created the same kind of sensation as J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" had three years earlier in the U.S. Whereas, following his novel's success, Salinger became a recluse, Sagan went into celebrity overdrive, providing the material for a million scandal-sheet articles and ultimately this movie.
Peaking too soon, Sagan the movie like Sagan the writer has nowhere to go but down once the spectacular early success fades. Kurys dutifully charts the descent from youthful hedonism, via a near-fatal car crash, into drink, drugs, ill-health, massive debt and an early, lonely old age.
The writer's riches-to-ruin story is told chronologically and at times a little ploddingly with occasional voice-over ruminations on life, love and literature drawn from her work. Sagan's old friends -- dancer Jacques Chazot (Pierre Palmade) and writer Bernard Frank (Lionel Abelanski) -- stay true, but a husband, publisher Guy Schoeller (Denis Podalydes), comes and rapidly goes, as does Bob Westhoff (William Miller), the father of her son Denis.
Disappointingly, Kurys adopts no point of view and offers virtually no explanation for the failures in Sagan's relationships, most glaringly in the case of the son whom she cruelly rebuffs. As a result it's hard to work up much sympathy for her protagonist's plight.
However, Testud binds the various elements together with an utterly convincing portrayal of the writer in her 50-year campaign of willful self-destruction, from the bright gamin with her elfin features to the somber, wheelchair-bound wreck that she becomes. She is supported by an excellent cast that includes Jeanne Balibar as the fashion writer Peggy Roche -- the love of Sagan's life -- and Arielle Dombasle in a polished cameo as the millionairess-artist here pseudonymously named Astrid who became her final jailor-companion.
Opened: in France: June 11
Production companies: Alexandre Films, EuropaCorp.
Cast: Sylvie Testud, Pierre Palmade, Jeanne Balibar, Denis Podalydes, Arielle Dombasle. Lionel Abelanski, Guillaume Gallienne, William Miller.
Director/producer: Diane Kurys.
Screenwriters: Diane Kurys, Martine Moriconi, Claire Lemarechal.
Director of photography: Michel Abramowicz.
Production design: Alexandra Lassen.
Music: Armand Amar.
Costumes: Nathalie Du Roscoat.
Editor: Sylvie Gadmer.
Sales: EuropaCorp. International.
No MPAA rating, 117 minutes.