My Way (Cloclo) : Film Review

Bloated and conventional Claude Francois biopic is strictly for fans.

Director Florent-Emilio Siri tells the story of French pop icon Claude Francois.

PARIS -- As kitschy and overstuffed as some of the legendary French singer’s numerous hits, My Way (Cloclo) is a long-winded, by-the-numbers portrait of Claude “Cloclo” Francois, whose worldwide claim to fame is the eponymous Frank Sinatra ballad he originally composed and performed under the title “Comme d’habitude.” Indeed, it’s business as usual in this 2 ½ hour biopic from Florent-Emilio Siri, which offers up a mix of fortune, glory and outdated haircuts with very little originality or dramatic gravitas. A lively turn from Dardenne Bros. regular Jeremie Renier may help the film finds its way to a few offshore markets outside its huge Francophone fan base.

One of the biggest pop stars in French history, Francois took the nation by storm in the '60s and '70s with a string of chart toppers, ranging from rock ‘n’ roll covers of the Everly Brothers and Frankie Valli to disco hits like “Alexandrie Alexandra” and “Je vais a Rio.” Charismatic and monomaniacal, and clearly unabashed about the tackier sides of showbiz, Francois stayed in the spotlight for as long as he could, changing up styles to compete with rival artists and even orchestrating his own on-stage collapse to remain in the headlines.

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But beyond the usual celebrity burnouts and hissy fits, as well as his rather conventional conflicts with a dismissive father (Marc Barbe) and gambling-addicted mother (Monica Scattini), there’s hardly a story to be told in Siri’s and co-writer Jumien Rappeneau’s lengthy and episodic screenplay, which covers events in strictly chronological fashion and fails to provide a veritable narrative arc.

Perhaps this is because Francois himself seems to have lead a fairly classical pop icon lifestyle, dating and occasionally marrying a succession of waiflike blonds (including singer France Gall), promoting himself at all costs, tearing up a few dressing rooms, and then dying at the age of 39 in a way that doesn’t exactly make for high drama (he electrocuted himself in his bathtub while fiddling with a faulty light fixture).

Still, as opposed to Johann Sfar’s much more engrossing Gainsbourg, which supplemented the usual rock star scenario with a few creative flights of fancy, Siri (Hostage, L’Ennemi intime) seems to be merely checking off a laundry list of biopic prerequisites as he tracks Cloclo’s climb to the top, capturing events in a glossy and generic style that brings nothing new to the table.

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The son of Franco-Italian expats living in pre-Nasser Egypt, Francois quickly showed a knack for music, nabbing gigs as a bongo player before stepping up to the mic, where his considerable range and dapper dance moves made him a standout. Once he arrived in Paris by way of Monaco and St. Tropez, he relentlessly pursued a record executive (Eric Saving) until signing his first hit with “Belles belles belles,” and then paired up with manager Paul Lederman (Benoit Magimel, engaging despite the wig) to rule the country and airwaves for the next two decades.

Beyond a few setbacks – often due to the way he micromanaged his own empire (which included a modeling agency and nudie magazine) – Francois remained captivating enough to keep his army of fans satisfied (both artistically and physically, as the film reveals) until the end. Seeing such a tale unfold may please the singer’s followers, but those looking for some sort of pop culture critique will be disappointed, while the uninitiated may gasp at the pure cheesiness of a man who succumbed to plastic surgery, blow-out hairstyles and a rigorous physical regime (featured in a rehearsal scene that looks like a Richard Simmons video) to stay famous.

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Renier nonetheless puts on a spirited show here, recreating Francois’ exuberant recording sessions and live performances, the highlight being a bilingual rendition of “My Way” at London’s Royal Albert Hall. To reinforce the song’s prominence, Sinatra (Robert Knepper) makes a few cameos, shadowing Cloclo throughout his career as a sort of guiding light.

Production values for this E20 million ($26 million) are solid, though the cinematography by Giovanni Fiore-Coltellacci (Transporter 3) doesn’t have much of an edge to it. A score by Alexandre Desplat is buried amid Francois’ lengthy discography.
Opens: In France, March 14
Production companies: LGM Cinema, Fleche Productions, 24C Prod ED, StudioCanal, TF1 Films Production, Rockworld, JRW Entertainment, Emilio Films, UFilm Belgacom
Cast: Jeremie Renier, Benoit Magimel, Monica Scattini, Sabrina Seyvecou, Ana Girardot, Josephine Japy, Maud Jurez, Marc Barbe, Eric Savin, Sophie Meister
Director: Florent-Emilio Siri
Screenwriters: Julien Rappeneau, Florent-Emilio Siri
Producers: Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont
Executive producer: David Giordano
Director of photography: Giovanni Fiore-Coltellacci
Production designer: Philippe Chiffre
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Costume designer: Memi Lempicka
Editors: Olivier Gajan
Sales Agent: StudioCanal
No rating, 148 minutes