Confessions of a Child of the Century: Cannes Review

Cannes Confessions of a Child of the Century Still - H 2012

Cannes Confessions of a Child of the Century Still - H 2012

English rock poet Pete Doherty botches a role he was born to play in this tedious French drama.

Sylvie Verheyde’s Un Certain Regard entry stars Pete Doherty as a listless young man in the 19th century.

CANNES - The role of a beautiful and damned 19th century libertine sounds like a perfect fit for disheveled English rock poet Pete Doherty, but then there’s the little matter of being able to act.

Based on his debut performance in Sylvie Verheyde’s Cannes Un Certain Regard entry, Confessions of a Child of the Century, an intolerably dull adaptation of French romanticist Alfred de Musset’s 1830s novel of debauchery and despair, the Libertines and Babyshambles singer shouldn’t even think of giving up his day job.

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Some blame must be apportioned to writer-director Verheyde (Stella), whose languorous, two-hour-long period-piece leeches any spark from her characters, and it was perhaps too much to expect a first-timer to shoulder a demanding lead. It’s hard to recall an actor looking more uncomfortable on screen.

Even the terrific Charlotte Gainsburg seems to be sleepwalking through the carefully dressed sets, as Doherty fidgets and ambles about beside her.

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Gainsburg’s involvement, and the novelty value of seeing the normally charismatic rock star dolled up as a dandy in frock coat and top hat (yet with a post-modern haircut), may stir initial interest, but the ennui of this low-budget French drama is contagious.

A victim of the times, Doherty’s Octave is struggling to find his place in the world; he is disenchanted with society and riddled with angst – the “disease of the century.” We know all this because Octave tells us in endless voiceover (the whole film is in English, presumably for Doherty’s benefit).

Betrayed by his mistress (model-turned-actress Lily Cole), he fights a duel, is shot in the arm and then hurls himself into a life of licentiousness. The scenes of so-called depravity are absurdly tame, consisting of men and women lying around on the floor of smoky salons and breaking the occasional glass.

When his father dies, Octave retires to the country where he meets Gainsburg’s Brigitte, an older widow whom he proceeds to follow about with puppy-dog eyes. Considering the ardour with which Octave pursues Brigitte, and the wanton vibe promised by the premise, Verheyde’s decision to drain the entire production of anything resembling passion is perplexing. And the unsteady camerawork is even more irritating than Doherty’s fidgeting.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Peter Doherty, August Diehl, Lily Cole

Production companies: Ad Vitam & les Films du Veyrier
Writer/director: Sylvie Verheyde
Producer: Bruno Berthemy
Director of photography: Nicolas Gaurin
Production designer: Thomas Grézaud
Costume designer: Esther Waltz
Music: NousDeux the Band
Editor: Christel Dewynter
Sales: Wild Bunch
No rating, 120 minutes