I think Cloclo is gonna be a tough sell for a lot of people. It’s one thing watching a biopic of a famous face of yesteryear, but it’s another get people to watch a movie about a French guy they’ve probably never heard of, whose main claim to fame outside France is that he co-wrote the original version of Sinatra’s My Way. It doesn’t help either that he was a bit of an asshole.
However despite the fact I can’t imagine too many people picking this out as their preferred viewing option, it’s not a bad movie. Jérémie Renier plays Claude Francois – aka Cloclo – who was born in Egypt to a French family, but during the Suez crisis is forced to leave along with his family. Back in Europe he yearns to make music, even though his father disapproves.
He’s determined though and puts everything, including his marriage, to one side in order to achieve his dream. The film then charts his rise to the top, when Francois becomes the ‘French Elvis’, with legions of screaming fans wherever he goes. However his single-mindedness about his career and tendency towards selfishness (particularly if anyone close to him starts to outshine him) constantly threatens to become egomania, and could cause his life to spiral out of control.
Some older people may know Claude Francois’ name – after all, the film says one of the highlights towards the end of his career was a sold-out show at the Royal Albert Hall – but he wasn’t familiar to me. The result is that while I found much of it to be an interesting character study of a complex man, some parts of it I found difficult to care about. That’s partly because the film wants to cover as much ground as possible, so certain events, such as the end of his first marriage, are zipped over at high speed, making it difficult to get involved with it. However the things it takes it time with are well done, with a good performance from Renier, strong direction (including some excellent tracking shots) and plenty of music.
The latter is particularly interesting for an English-speaking audience, as while Francois is probably best known over here for co-writing the original version of My Way, much of his French career consisted of taking British and American hit songs, rewriting the lyrics and creating a new version for a French audience. Many of the tunes are very familiar, but as the subtitles reveal, the French lyrics are often quite different to what we’re used to. The movie suggests Francois made changes not just so the words would fit in French, but also because he often thought he could significantly improve on the original.
It’s kind of nice as well to have a music biopic that doesn’t involve the subject descending into a whirlwind of drink and/or drugs. I was almost starting to think there was some secret rule that you weren’t allowed to make a movie about a musician who wasn’t a major druggie. Francois certainly had problems, from a gambling-addicted mother to his overly controlling attempts to hide the fact he’d had a second son – but they weren’t to do with narcotics. Even so, the film doesn’t exactly chart new territory, and essentially covers everything else you’d expect of a music biopic, except for drugs/drink.
There’s a slight problem with the ending for those who aren’t Cloclo fans, as the movie assumes you know what coming, so it doesn’t quite work if you don’t. Indeed the whole film has the sense that it wasn’t really made for newcomers to Claude, which again makes it a tough sell for most English speakers.
Overall Verdict: Cloclo isn’t a bad film, but as it’s a relatively generic music biopic about a figure most won’t have heard of, it’s tough to recommend the movie to those who don’t know Francois, even though Renier is great and there are some excellent visual touches.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac