March 3, 2007
The Singer, 2006
Each day, a divorced, middle-aged dance hall chanteur, Alain Moreau (in an elegant performance by Gérard Depardieu), attired in his white satin suit and sporting a provincial, stylishly overgrown haircut with a touch of highlights, sings from his stout repertoire of familiar - yet not too iconic - love songs before an appreciative audience in assorted dance halls, upscale restaurants, and nursing homes throughout Clermont-Ferrand: special places where people with palpable life experiences - too old for the frenetic beat of clubs and discotheques - can come together and, for a brief moment, find connection with each other, their formative histories, their personal memories. It is a humble vocation that suits the endearing and charismatic Alain well with his easygoing, confident manner and refreshingly pragmatic outlook over his role - not as an artist seeking to elevate his performance in search of legacy and stardom - but as an entertainer for hire who must consciously remain attuned to the wishes of his audience to sing competently, yet unobtrusively, the sentimental melodies that will entice them to dance, to linger in the moment, to forget their pain, abandon their inhibitions and take a chance. It is perhaps Alain's remarkable ability to put the audience at ease and break down resistances that propels real estate businessman, Bruno (Mathieu Amalric) to bring his newly hired real estate agent, an attractive, recently separated woman named Marion (Cécile de France) to the dance hall one evening, a manipulative ploy with seeming unintentional consequences when she catches the attention of the charming crooner. Instinctually drawn to each other by a sense of displaced longing and mutual woundedness, Alain enlists Marion's aid in finding a new residence under the pretext of finally moving out of the home that he had shared with his manager and former wife Michèle (Christine Citti). But as Michèle strives to reinvent Alain's flagging career in the face of dwindling bookings, declining health, and the increasing popularity of karaoke, his reinvigorated desire to start his life anew is tempered by the ambivalence of leaving behind the intimacy of his beloved dance halls. Channeling the spirit of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red in its suffusive evocation of longing and synchronicity, Xavier Giannoli's The Singer is an intelligently rendered, understatedly resonant, and refined portrait of the often bifurcating trajectories of existential and emotional intersections. Concluding with the extended long shot of Alain and Marion in desperate and reluctant embrace from the windows of a café, the silent choreography of souls in restless motion becomes a sublime metaphor for their transformative, star-crossed encounter - fragrant in its fleeting intoxication, heartbreaking in its inevitable conclusion, and indelible in its haunting irresolution.