Emily Wang (Maggie Cheung) is a woman who wrestles with her dream of becoming a singer, her fitness as a mother, and daily life without her partner Lee (James Johnston). Her past is riddled with drugs and regrets, the result of which left Lee dead in a desolate motel room in Hamilton, Ontario, and landed Emily with a six-month jail sentence. The only thing that she desires for the future is a loving relationship with her son Jay, who is being cared for by Lees parents, Albrecht (Nick Nolte) and Rosemary (Martha Henry). While Rosemary blames Emily for the death of Lee, Albrecht recognizes the importance of the bond between a mother and her son, and his faith sets the standard for the faith Emily must find in herself. CLEAN follows Emily to Hamilton, Paris, London and San Francisco and in three languages, as she battle for a place in a world reluctant to forget the woman she has been and unwilling to accept her as the woman she longs to be.
After the uncharacteristically epic Les Destinées
and surprisingly cynical Demonlover
, Olivier Assayas got his groove back with the cautiously optimistic Clean
. Granted, the globe-trotting tale gets off to a grim start, but the grace notes gradually begin to accumulate. Corkscrew-coiffed Emily (Hong Kong superstar Maggie Cheung) is the outspoken lover of struggling musician Lee (James Johnston, formerly of Brit band Gallon Drunk). She's also a heroin addict, just like her partner. When he dies from an overdose, she does time for possession, while his Canadian parents, Albrecht (Nick Nolte in a nicely-shaded performance) and Rosemary (Martha Henry), gain custody of son Jay (James Dennis). Upon release, Emily returns to France to find work, stay clean, and earn the right to reclaim her child. Except for Albrecht, no one believes she can pull it off. Worse yet, many hold her responsible for Lee's death. (The echoes of Courtney Love and Yoko Ono can't be coincidental.) A decade has passed since Assayas directed Cheung in the dazzling Irma Vep
. Since that time, they married and divorced, but the professional relationship persists, culminating in a Best Actress award at Cannes for a performance that calls for dialogue in English, French, and Cantonese--even some singing. As suggested by the title, Clean
is cool and somewhat detached, an effect reinforced by Éric Gautier's crisp cinematography and a soundtrack heavy on early Eno, but it sidesteps the histrionics frequently associated with the recovery film. Featuring Tricky and David Roback (Mazzy Star) as themselves. --Kathleen C. Fennessy