Friday, 14 October 2016

The Idol (4½ Stars)

This is the 14th film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 2002. As I wrote in my first review of this film five years ago, it's a film that's so different to any other film that it's breathtaking in its originality. It doesn't lose its appeal with repeated viewing. The film was made in French, which shouldn't surprise my readers who know that Leelee Sobieski speaks fluent French. Her co-star in the film, James Hong, speaks French less proficiently. Even as someone who only learnt French in school I can tell that his French is broken. He probably speaks French as well as I would if I had to make a French film.

This is Leelee's second film about a relationship between a young woman and an older man. In "My First Mister" it was a 17-year-old girl and a 49-year-old man. In this film the age difference is bigger. The ages aren't explicitly stated, but at the time of filming Leelee Sobieski was 19 and James Hong was 73, so we can assume that an age gap of at least 50 years is intended. Once more the topic of an unbalanced couple is dealt with very delicately. It's more than a friendship but not quite a romance. The only scandal is in the minds of their neighbours who imagine the worst.

The film takes place in Paris. Leelee Sobieski plays Sarah Silver, an Australian actress. James Hong plays Zao, a retired cook whose apartment is next to hers. Sarah's career is going nowhere and her love life is going nowhere. She's the stand-in for the leading lady in the stage production "La Nuit Obscure". She has to practise the lines, but will probably never get the chance to perform. She's having an affair with the husband of the leading lady, but he's made it clear that it's only sex and he has no intention of leaving his wife. Effectively, in her private life she's also standing in for something that will never happen. She's second best, and she doesn't like it.

Then Sarah meets Zao. He's the first person in her life who puts her first. He cooks for her, he washes her clothes, he brings her flowers, and he never asks for anything in return. Sarah breaks off her affair with the married man, because she now has all she needs. As in "My First Mister", it's a story of two lonely people drawn together by their loneliness. The difference is that it isn't a relationship between equals; Zao puts Sarah on a pedestal, he idolises her. That might sound negative, but it's exactly what Sarah needs. She wants to be the most important person in someone's life.

Leelee Sobieski

James Hong

Can a relationship like this succeed? In theory, yes. Two lonely people can make one another happy. But that's not what happens in this film. Two lonely people can also make one another even lonelier.

As I've mentioned before, one of the reasons that Leelee Sobieski has quit acting is because, in her words, 90% of acting roles involve sexual stuff that she doesn't want to do. I find this statement remarkably incorrect, so I'm keeping count as I go through her films. This is the first film she made in which there's a sex scene, simulated sex with the married man. That's only 7% of her roles so far. Even if the passionate kisses in "Here on Earth" are included it's only 15%.

Unfortunately, this is a film that's never found the acclaim that it deserves. The DVD is long out of print, but if you're lucky you might find a copy on Ebay.

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