The Idol (l'idole)

on September 07, 2002 by Chris Wiegand
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Samantha Lang's French-language follow-up to "The Monkey's Mask" is both a lucid character study and an unconventional love story. Full of little intrigues and acute observations, "The Idol" unfolds slowly and confirms the director as a master of mise en scène.

Paris, in what appears to be the present day. Sarah ("Eyes Wide Shut's" Leelee Sobieski) is a young Australian actress who moves into a quiet apartment block. Her arrival riles the building's conservative inhabitants, who quickly object to her thunderous lovemaking with brooding boyfriend Philippe (Jalil Lespert, "Human Resources"). Facing a barrage of complaints, Sarah earns the sympathy of one resident, a wizened Chinese gentleman named Zao (James Hong), who is helplessly enchanted by his new neighbor.

Sarah comes to rely on Zao's friendship when she breaks up with Philippe, who apparently has another lover on the go--the same actress Sarah understudies at a local theatrical production. Zao strives to comfort Sarah but his efforts may not be enough to save her from recurrent suicidal notions.

"The Idol" first suggests itself as an adult drama centered around a precarious love triangle. With this promising, albeit clichéd, premise established, it takes a surprising turn, focusing on the interplay between Sarah and her elderly neighbor. The ensuing action hardly leaves their apartments, which are beautifully designed by Prisque Salvi ("Moulin Rouge") and proficiently photographed by Benoît Delhomme ("Miss Julie").

Lang directs this compelling mood piece (an adaptation of Michelle Tourneur's novel "A L'Heure Dite") with a seductive, sensuous touch, delivering a miscellany of rich images, including a freshly pressed silk nightgown sliding off an ironing board and a full Chinese meal laid out with immaculate attention to detail. Sobieski and Hong, who both rise to their challenging roles, are bathed in a warm, opulent light throughout, while some slinky numbers from guitarist Django Reinhardt complement the leisurely narrative perfectly. Starring Leelee Sobieski, James Hong, Jalil Lespert and Jean-Paul Roussillon. Directed by Samantha Lang. Written by Gérard Brach and Samantha Lang. Produced by Olivier Delbosc and Marc Missonnier. No distributor set. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 108 min.

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