CLOCLO (‘My Way’)

Director: Florent-Emilio Siri
Cast: Jeremie Renier (Claude Francois), Marc Barbe, Monica Scattini, Benoit Magimel, Sabrina Seyvecou, Ana Girardot

Running time: 2 ½ hours

Opens: March 14th (France)

Claude Francois died in 1978 at the age of 39 trying to fix a faulty light-bulb while standing in his bathtub. It was not a dramatic death; not tragically reckless like James Dean’s, nor tragically mysterious like Marilyn’s. It was… stupid, to be honest. And his story is not all that unusual for a pop star: there is the difficult childhood, the disapproving, impossible-to-please father, the string of failed marriages and affairs, the tantrums, and the inevitable emptiness, despite all the money and extravagance. But this film really is something special…

If you know anything about Claude Francois, you will expect this film to be full of outrageously coloured suits, flares, outdated hairdos, hit tunes, silly dance moves and the famous “Clodettes” (Francois’ female dancers, invariably clad in sequined bikinis and high-heeled boots). It is, I am pleased to say, but even if you have a horror of all that 70’s cheesiness, you still cannot fail to be fascinated by the life of the extraodinary man that was Claude Francois.

Cloclo is a portrait of one of the biggest pop stars in French history. Claude Francois, affectionately nicknamed “Cloclo” by the French, took the nation by storm with endless chart-toppers during the ’60s and ’70s. If you have never heard ‘Je vais a Rio’, ‘Belles, belles, belles,’ or ‘Cette annee-la’, you will definitely know one of his songs: ‘Comme d’habitude’, which was later interpreted by Frank Sinatra under the title ‘My Way’.

The film is a real show, and one that goes beyond the glitter. Jeremie Renier is perfect as Claude Francois, not just because of his striking resemblance to the French star, but because he embodies an explosive exuberance that is infectious, and seems to ressurect the musical legend. His dancing is hypnotically, ridiculously flamboyant and true, and his anger tantrums are at once frightening, pathetic, and vulnerably touching. Renier convincingly delivers a sense of what made this complicated man tick.

Francois’ life is played out chronologically in a straighforward, faithful way. His priveleged childhood in Egypt, being raised by Franco-Italian expatriates, is vividly brought to life. So is the family’s descent into financial trouble after they were forced back to France in 1956, and the ensuing conflict between Francois and his father. Then it is a story of  mulish determination on the part of Francois, who pestered his way to getting his first record deal, despite consistent failures.

Claude Francois is still a musical legend in France today, and it is surprising that that a big-budget film hasn’t been made about him before now. His songs are classics, his dance moves indelibly branded in the French collective memory, but Francois was also the first French singer to start a fan club, and the first entertainer to put black dancers on television. He understood the concept of marketing before there was even a word for it in France, even going so far as to plan his own on-stage collapse, in order to stay in the newspapers.

His character is best understood through his tumultuous relationships: we see a jealous, insecure man, afraid to lose everything overnight. From dumping singer France Gall because she won the Eurovision song contest (“yes, you’ve won, France”, he says mercilessly, “but you’ve lost me”) to stalking the future mother of his children until she agreed to date him, we see a slightly manic, hardworking, perfectionist singer, dancer, lady’s man and savvy businessman obsessed with control. The building of his businness empire (including a modelling agency and magazine) which he managed himself, is shown as an equally obsessive activity.

One refreshing aspect of this film is that it doesn’t sugarcoat the less attractive aspects of Francois’ personality. The star is shown sleeping with fans, constantly cheating on his partners, and throwing a great many hissy fits. But his love for his parents, his sister, and most of all his two boys, who he strains to protect from the media, is of tear-jerking poignancy at some points in the film. Renier is bursting with exuberance and energy, and brings to life Claude Francois’ recording sessions and live performances with sparkling aplomb.