Tuesday, April 04, 2006
#12 (Film in Review 2005)
In Olivier Assayas's Clean (#12), Maggie Cheung (pictured, of Hero and In the Mood for Love brilliance) plays Emily Wang, a recovering junkie widow who desperately attempts to re-gain control of her life. Her husband is dead of a drug overdose, she is utterly broke, and her estranged son is in the care of his over-protective paternal grandparents. On top of all this, there is always the danger of her relapsing, which threatens to send her plummeting down a black hole of negation. It sounds like the stuff of off-putting melodrama, yet Assayas mutes the emotion, leaving the viewer to feel moved on his or her own terms. Cheung's fantastic, Cannes-prize winning work is similar, refusing to make Emily's journey an outward display of breakdowns. It is a risky performance, because it threatens to taint any sympathy one might have for her character. But Cheung is a smart actor, and we understand that her ferocious anger stems from a deep vulnerability, one that causes her to reject people even before she knows their true intentions. Assayas wrote the part especially for her (they were once married), just as he did with Irma Vep. Equally stellar in a touching performance is Nick Nolte, playing Emily's father-in-law who is torn between wanting to trust her and having his grandson's best interests at heart. I saw the film almost two years ago at the Toronto Film Festival, and it was released quietly in theatres here a couple of months ago. I hear that it is finally releasing in the States this month, although I don't know whether it will be anything more than a tiny, limited release. It is available on video in Canada now, and there are multiple DVD versions floating around the web. Whatever means by which you access it, do give it a try. At the very least, you will be astounded by Cheung's work - it's worth the watch for that.