Olivier Assayas’ latest film, Clean, is a sincere, well-intentioned, and technically proficient, but uncharacteristically trite and formulaic portrait of a drug-addicted, washed up celebrity and recent widow named Emily Wang (Maggie Cheung) who, having lost custody of her son Jay (James Dennis) to her Canadian in-laws, Albrecht (Nick Nolte) and Rosemary Hauser (Martha Henry) while serving a prison term in North America for drug possession, decides to return to France in order to forget her personal tragedy, embarking on a long, emotionally draining, uncertain, and lonely journey to rebuild her life in an attempt to earn the Hausers’ respect and repair her estranged relationship with her abandoned son. It should be noted, however, that as in his earlier demonlover, Assayas displays an uncanny insight and well-researched, indigenous authenticity into, not only the creation of the subject art and its corresponding medium (in this case, music), but also the formative pulse of its supporting industry. During the Q&A, Assayas remarked that he had envisioned Cheung’s character as a kind of updated insight into the true nature of the actress that, unlike her character in Irma Vep (which the filmmaker admittedly describes as a superficial characterization of an “outsider” Hong Kong actress in France), incorporates more of her intrinsic Western characteristics, having lived in England in her youth and attained a level of fluency in both English and French. The thoughtfulness of this vision is clearly evident in Cheung’s complex, sensitively realized, and indelible portrait of fragility and resilience, vulnerability and determination, and uncertainty and sincerity.
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