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If this were a normal festive season when it was possible to have a post-prandial snuggle on the couch with older relatives, or just fans of the best in old-school movie-star glamour, then this documentary about Audrey Hepburn — out Dec. 15 on DVD and Blu-Ray ahead of a Jan. 5 VOD/digital release — would be ideal viewing. Even if you watch it alone on a laptop with a bottle of cheap beer and a dried-up turkey sandwich, Audrey is a pleasure. That’s mostly due to the still-incandescent star power of its subject.
Even so, this is a fundamentally well-curated packaging of archive and original material, punctuated with insightful interviews with friends, family members and appreciative collaborators and admirers such as Peter Bogdanovich (who directed her in 1981’s They All Laughed, her penultimate film role) and critic Molly Haskell. Nevertheless, viewers with a taste for tell-all bitchiness should prepare to be disappointed.
RELEASE DATE Jan 05, 2021
Given that it was made with the cooperation and input of Hepburn’s son Sean Hepburn Ferrer, who is also often interviewed on-camera, Audrey tends toward gauzy, loving hagiography, emphasizing the star’s kindness, her traumatic childhood in the Netherlands during World War II, and the unhappiness of her two marriages before she eventually settled down with final partner Robert Wolders.
Naturally, her considerable work as an ambassador for UNICEF is celebrated extensively in the later part. If you didn’t know Hepburn’s screen career, you might come away with the impression she was basically some kind of Mother Teresa in glamorous clothing.
All joking aside, it’s no accident the film was produced largely by Salon Pictures, the production house that made McQueen, about the late designer Alexander McQueen, and in a way Audrey is actually at its best when exploring Hepburn’s sense of style. A generous and entirely appropriate amount of screen time is devoted to her nearly lifelong friendship with designer Hubert de Givenchy, discussed with eloquence by his successor Clare Waight Keller, who understands the singular and groundbreaking nature of their collaboration.
Meanwhile, in order to put flesh on Hepburn’s passion for dance, the film casts ballerinas to play the star at different points in her life. The Royal Ballet’s Francesca Hayward (recovered from Cats) incarnates Hepburn in her prime, and Alessandra Ferri in her later years, plus Keira Moore appears as adolescent Audrey, all dancing Wayne McGregor’s choreography in a set full of wafting chiffon and shadows.
There are clips of the real Audrey dancing en pointe from her earliest films, and a good amount of attention is given to her iconic performance in Funny Face, one of her best roles, where she held her own against Fred Astaire.
Director Helena Coan, who started off as a film archivist and made Chasing Perfect, a documentary for Salon Pictures about car designer Frank Stephenson, judiciously apportions attention across Hepburn’s biography and career, gluing it all together with generous audio contributions from the woman herself, reflecting in that distinctive British-Dutch accent on assorted subjects.
Mark Keady’s editing generally is unobtrusive and fluid, enough so that it’s only afterward one might wonder whether it was problems securing rights or just lack of time that kept the film from delving deeper into some of Hepburn’s best screen roles. There are plenty of clips from Roman Holiday, Sabrina and, of course, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But barely a still from, say, Charade or my personal favorite, Stanley Donen’s experimental marital study Two for the Road, in which she has terrific chemistry with Albert Finney.
But then that’s the thing about Hepburn: She had such an elusive, delicate appeal that she always leaves you wanting more.
Production: Salon Pictures, in association with Head Hear Films, Metrol Technology, Kreo Films, Bohemia Media, XYZ Films, Redfive, Renoir Pictures
Distributor: Bohemia Media
Cast/interviewees: Francesca Hayward, Alessandra Ferri, Keira Moore, Michael Avedon, Peter Bogdanovich, Clemence Boulouque, Anna Cataldi, Richard Dreyfuss, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, Emma Kathleen Hepburn Ferrer, Molly Haskell, Nilo Iacoponi, John Isaac, Edith Lederer, John Loring, Pierluigi Christophe Orunesu, Marilena Pilat, Mita Ungaro, Clare Waight Keller, Andrew Wald
Director-screenwriter: Helena Coan
Producers: Nick Taussig, Annabel Wigoder
Executive producers: Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Lucy Fenton, Nate Bolotin, Tamir Ardon, Paul Van Carter, Ian Berg, Abid Majid, Reynold D’Silva
Archive producer: Jackie Ramsamy
Director of photography: Simona Susnea
Production designer: Alexandra Toomey
Costume designer: Harriet Kendall
Music: Alex Somers
Editor: Mark Keady
Choreographer: Wayne McGregor
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