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  • TBC
  • Drama, Music
  • 2006
  • 112 mins

The Singer

The Singer

Synopsis

Xavier Giannoli's third feature captures all the sweet romance and bitter regret of a dance-hall chanson. Gérard Depardieu stars

About

"To me", says Alain Moreau (Depardieu), the protagonist of Xavier Giannoli's The Singer, "the songs all tell the truth - especially the love songs."

Sometimes filmmakers can find a pre-existing song and make it seem tailor-written for their films - tapping into a truth in the song that might otherwise have gone unnoticed, and that perfectly encapsulates a character or situation in the film. David Lynch did it with 'In Dreams' in Blue Velvet, Richard Kelly did it with 'Mad World' in Donnie Darko, Victor Salva did it with 'Jeepers Creepers' in, er, Jeepers Creepers - and now Giannoli has done it with a whole repertoire of dance-hall standards, from Serge Gainsbourg's 'Anamour' to Mort Shuman's 'Save The Last Dance For Me', and from Michel Delpech's 'Quand J'étais Chanteur' to Christophe's 'Les Paradis Perdus', which the writer-director uses as a chorus-like commentary on the emotional journey of his characters.

Unlike in, say, Alain Resnais' Same Old Song (1997), where the most unlikely of characters burst into full oom-pah chanson, here there is a certain naturalism to the way that Alain's interpretation of these songs should capture his shifting moods. He is, after all, a professional singer working an aging circuit of clubs, casinos and retirement homes in the small town of Clermont-Ferrand. The songs are quite literally Alain's life and, like them, he is a bit old-fashioned, a bit nostalgic, a bit corny, a bit past-it - but as he will later put it himself, "Each time everyone thinks I'm done for, I bounce back."

One evening Alain's friend, the realtor Bruno (Amalric), comes to the club together with his much younger employee - and would-be lover - Marion (De France), and the sight of her awakens in Alain a need for change. Sex is the easy part - Alain and Marion get it over with that very night - but over the following weeks, as autumn sets in and Marion helps Alain in his search for a new home, the two also start to inhabit one another's complicated lives, before moving on to what they now realise they truly want.

Low-key and unflashy (apart from the odd mirror-ball), The Singer should in a sense be judged as much for what it manages to avoid as for what it achieves. Even though its setting is the provinces and its principal character is a schmaltzy, over-the-hill crooner, Giannoli has resisted the temptation to mock either, instead portraying them with the kind of heartfelt sympathy and honesty that would not be out of place in one of Alain's songs.

The marked age difference between Alain and Marion turns out to be just about the least unconventional aspect of a relationship conducted almost entirely through house-hunting expeditions, in scenes which subtly reveal the unsettled, dissatisfied status of both characters, determined to move but not quite sure to where. Both Depardieu and De France brew up a marvelously bittersweet chemistry - and Depardieu's singing makes Alain's local success and longevity as an artist seem entirely credible.

Just like the songs that it celebrates, Giannoli's film may speak to the universal human feelings of love, loss and loneliness, but its rather crusty veneer will not be to everyone's tastes. More particularly, when Alain tells Marion that his typical audience consists of divorcees or older singles, and expresses his surprise to see someone as young as her in the club, it is difficult to escape the impression that he is also accurately describing this film's likely demographic. The Singer will probably not have many under-30s dancing in the aisles - but perhaps that is just another way of saying that it is that rare thing, a romantic drama that has reached its full maturity.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Patrick Pineau, Jean-Pierre Gos, Cécile De France, Christophe, Alain Chanone, Mathieu Amalric, Christine Citti, Gérard Depardieu
  • Director: Xavier Giannoli
  • Screen Writer: Xavier Giannoli
  • Producer: Edouard Weill, Pierre-Ange Le Progam
  • Photographer: Yorick Le Saux
  • Composer: Alexandre Desplat

In a nutshell

: This flawlessly performed, well-observed romance shows there's life in the old tunes yet.

by Anton Bitel

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