I just finished watching a rather spotty comedy Tais-Toi! (Shut up!) starring Gerard Depardieu and Jean Reno. I’m adding that film to my stack of forgettable Depardieu films, but then since he is such a prolific actor in French cinema, it’s only natural that he’s going to make an occasional stinker.
Deciding I wanted to see Depardieu in something good, I pulled The Singer off my shelf. Gerard Depardieu as a washed-up lounge singer? This had to be good….
And it is.
The Singer (Quand J’Etais Chanteur) from writer/director Xavier Giannoli stars Depardieu as middle-aged lounge singer Alain Moreau. Alain sings his carefully selected romantic ballads with his own back-up band, and his career is managed by mother-hen ex-wife Michele (Christine Citti)–a woman who used to sing along with him. Apart from worrying about Alain and his career, Michele also runs a bar called the Aquarius. According to Michele’s boyfriend, Daniel (Patrick Pineau), Michele is putting on weight and worries too much about Alain.
Based in the town of Clermont-Ferrand, Alain enjoys celebrity status, but it’s something he doesn’t take for granted, and he steadily and patiently works at maintaining his fan base. He’s gracious to autograph seekers, and during his performances at small clubs and weddings, Alain always gives his older audiences his whole attention while he creates or recreates romance for those paying to hear him sing.
One night at a gig, Alain meets and is very attracted to the much younger blonde estate agent, Marion (Cecile de France) and he’s introduced to her by a mutual acquaintance, Marion’s boss, Bruno (Mathieu Amalric). It’s not so much that Alain sweeps Marion off her feet as much as he takes her off guard. She’s vulnerable due to a recent break-up, and then there’s always the regret and embarrassment of the morning after….
Given The Singer‘s premise, this could be the sort of plot that’s rife with clichés and/or sentimentality, and there are a couple of scenes which seemed about to lead to some old familiar paths. Instead the film firmly veers away from all of that nonsense and offers a well-rounded, highly believable, compassionate portrait of a man who knows his weaknesses and his limitations–even if those who surround him don’t.
The seasoned actor Depardieu plays this difficult role with gentleness, grace and dignity, and the result is a surprisingly touching film. One of my favourite moments: when Alain admits he puts blonde highlights in his hair to maintain the sort of look his fans expect. And for Depardieu fans, it’s a great deal of fun to see him singing and using that famous screen prescence for a slightly different purpose.