When a young Australian actress (Leelee Sobieski) moves into a Paris apartment, her neighbours take notice, for various reasons – not always benign. But it is the man across the landing, the elderly Chinaman, Mr Zao (James Hong) who walks into her apartment and her life, gently insinuating himself and trying to find a connection even as he tries to befriend the girl, who seems intent on suicide.
Review by Louise Keller:
Notable for its confluence of different nationalities, L’Idole is a complex and often claustrophobic film exploring the relationships between strangers who live in the same apartment block. At times fascinating, while at others simply frustrating, the film often slips into self-indulgence, as we enter the world of free-spirited Sarah, whose loose morals are the talking point of the conservative tenants and landlord. The sense of place, the mood and the overt delineation of who belongs where is clearly defined: this is the highlight of the film for me. Talented New York-born actress Leelee Sobieski (full name Liliane Rudabet Gloria Elsveta Sobieski) exercises her bi-lingual skills admirably and inhabits Sarah with a passionate intensity that belies her 20 years. She plays an Australian working in theatre in France, and delivers a pretty good Australian accent in the couple of lines that are spoken in English. She is a real talent. No doubt, Australian director Samantha Lang, who has been living in Paris for some time, gave her some tips. I am fascinated by James Hong’s Mr Zao, the elderly Chinese tenant who speaks French badly, but displays the very precise mannerisms found in Asians. His is a haunting character – puzzling, intriguing and rather sad. The relationship between the man at the end of his life and the young girl whose life may also end, is both poignant and compelling. Theirs is not a sexual relationship, but there develops one of part-voyeur, part mentor, as Mr Zao lingers as Sarah disrobes and waits on her, servile fashion. L’Idole is a mood piece, and whether or not the mood is enough to sustain our attention for the entire running time, is a matter of individual taste. I found some of the nudity and sex scenes gratuitous, making me feel a little like Mr Zao’s voyeur. But maybe that is the point. It’s an ambitious film and Lang can be commended for her courage to tackle such a project. But like The Well, L’Idol remains a rather cold work, and doesn’t entice us to be entirely connected to the characters. Lang’s last film The Monkey’s Mask is my favourite from this very talented Australian director; it actually got us totally involved in the bizarre complexity of its characters.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I had to see this film twice before I began to appreciate its qualities, perhaps because Sam Lang’s directing talent is better than her talent for picking stories. On second viewing, the scenes come alive, her sense of cinema is paramount and the emotional thread of the story is maintained through – and despite – the story’s weaknesses. It’s an oblique story, one that almost withdraws at the touch, because it’s dealing with internal issues. Issues that afflict its central characters deeply, but are hidden behind the exploration of incidental characters. We are blinded by the innocuous. Like her boyfriend, and her sexual relationship with him; it seems an insertion, provoking and raw, to create a contrast, but nothing more. The film is beautifully shot, beautifully cast and beautifully directed – but it is also resistible. The central relationship between Zao and Sarah is the engine, but it revs up only to stall. It distances us; we engage intellectually, not emotionally, especially as the sexual subtext of their friendship is tentative and is meant to be non-existent. The actors are wonderful; they clearly love working with Lang, and they give wholeheartedly, both leads speaking French dialogue, which is not their native tongue. Yet, where we should be melting with the underlying pathos, we simply consider it. With some terrific scenes, but without an emotional payoff, L'Idole is too self conscious to be as effecting as the subject matter might suggest.
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CAST: Leelee Sobieski, James Hong, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Jalil Lespert, Marie Loboda
PRODUCER: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
DIRECTOR: Samantha Lang
SCRIPT: Gerard Brach and Samantha Lang (novel A L’Heure Dite by Michelle Tourneur)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Benoît Delhomme
EDITOR: Chantal Hymans
MUSIC: Gabriel Yared
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Art direction: Prisque Salvi
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: June 26, 2003; Sydney July 3, 2003.