Film-Forward Review: [BACKSTAGE]

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Emmanuelle Seigner as Lauren Waks
Photo: Strand Releasing

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BACKSTAGE
Directed by: Emmanuelle Bercot.
Produced by: Caroline Benjo & Carole Scotta.
Written by: Bercot & Jérôme Tonnerre.
Director of Photography: Agnès Godard.
Edited by: Julien Leloup.
Music by: Laurent Marimbert.
Released by: Strand Releasing.
Language: French with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: France. 112 min. Not Rated.
With: Emmanuelle Seigner, Isild Le Besco, Noémie Lvovsky, Valéry Zeitoun, Samuel Benchetrit, Edith Le Merdy, Jean-Paul Walle Wa Wana, & Mar Sodupe.

Out of place among the traditional and stately furnishings, a large stuffed deer dominates the living room of French pop star Lauren Waks’ Plaza Athénée suite. Waks’ ex-boyfriend refers to the clinging crooner as being as emotionally dead as that stuffed object, but this film’s off-kilter sexual triangle also brings to mind Claude Chabrol’s decadent and bisexual Les Biches (literally, The Does), with its rich and beautiful older woman, Stéphane Audran, taking in a younger, homeless woman. But in director Emmanuelle Bercot’s world of pop culture, it may not be clear who is actually pulling the strings: the diva or her devoted fan. Whether or not this comparison is reading too much into this unrestrained drama, Backstage’s ice-blond bitch-goddess is an equally persuasive seducer as Audran, not only for her generous pocketbook, but for possessing today's most powerful currency: celebrity.

Suburban teenager Lucie’s bedroom is a sanctuary to all things Lauren Waks, whose visage is everywhere, from her bedcover to her walls. One album cover features Lauren completely topless, outdoing Madonna. The singer cautiously opens her door into her inner sanctum for the intruding fan, who has hitchhiked to Paris to apologize to her idol. The previous day, Lucie stuttered and stammered like a deer in the headlights at the sight of Lauren in her home (which was arranged by Lucie’s mother and filmed for a MTV-type of fan-meets-idol program.) Overwhelmed at the sight of Lauren, Lucie fled into her bedroom, canceling the shoot. But for the needy Lauren, everyone has a purpose: Lucie’s first errand is to covertly obtain pills.

How Lucie is able to breeze by hotel security after spending the night camped outside the hotel waiting for a sighting of the star is one question, how she lowers the resistance of Lauren’s entourage is another. As played by Isild Le Besco, everyone who encounters Lucie should keep their guard up. As if walking in a trance listening to voices (or most likely, Lauren’s catalogue of blandly confessional Euro pop songs), Lucie’s glazed look and ferociousness when not getting her way spill the beans way too soon. She’s less seductive or manipulative than a buzzing mosquito that won’t go away. Almost unnervingly feral in the same vein as actresses Samantha Morton or Sylvie Testud, Le Besco’s hysterically-pitched outbursts overpower everyone else onscreen, even Emmanuelle Seigner’s boozy, uninhibited Lauren. Kent Turner
November 17, 2006

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