I’ve not really seen that many biopics in my time – it’s not a genre that I deliberately avoid, it’s just it’s rare that I am sufficiently interested in the lives of the rich and famous to want to spend a couple of hours learning about them. However, Cloclo (2012) by French director Florent-Emilio Siri (L’ennemi intime (2007), Hostage (2005)) is something else again, not least because it has at its centre a performance by Jérémie Renier as France’s über-chanteur malheureux Claude François that is nothing short of astounding.
Truth be told, I was a big fan of François (or ‘Cloclo’, as the French affectionately moniker him) before watching the film – he first came into my orbit with the simply splendid Podium (2004) by Yann Moix, starring Benoît Poelvoorde as Cloclo impersonator par excellence Bernard Frédéric, but Moix’s film, while still very respectful to the memory of CF, was nevertheless a very broad (and very funny) pastiche of the man and his music.
Bravely, in that it is only eight years since Podium swept all before it, Cloclo instead opts for the straight story, a faithful and, considering that it was produced by François’ sons, unflinching look at the tragically short life of a singer-personality who is still a legend in la France.
Born the son of a shipping-company owner in Egypt, we see a little of Cloclo’s early life, and the beginnings of his vexed and ultimately completely estranged relationship with his father Aimé (Marc Barbé), who completely rejects his son’s musical ambitions and subsequently disowns him.
A pity that more could not have been made of this relationship, or lack thereof, because it is just about the only lacuna in an otherwise immaculately complete account of Cloclo’s life which, you may not know, ended on 11 March 1978, when François electrocuted himself trying to mend a light-bulb while standing in his bath.
Now, let me tell you about Renier – even at my first look at the poster for the film, which shows François’ face in profile, I knew that I was in for a treat – as one of Bernard Frédéric’s competitors remarks in Podium, ‘he’s not an impersonator this guy, he’s a clone’, and the same can absolutely be said of Renier (L’enfant (2005)) in Cloclo.
And it’s not just a question of the look being absolutely spot on – Renier mimics the body language, posture, voice and on-stage rythmns of François so well, I guarantee that after 30 minutes or so, you will be convinced that Cloclo lives.
Very little more to be said, really – it opens in Belgium and France on 14 March. You must see this film.
128 mins. In French, Italian and English.