Clean Screen 81 of 18 reviews

Clean

2004

Clean Poster
  • Assayas, always a director unusually attentive to locking together song and image, whose proposed next project is a concert movie with Sonic Youth, has made his first real rock ‘n’ roll film here—and an excessively astute one, at that... Beyond its function as a kick-the-habit melodrama—though it is that at base, and a restrained, remarkably modulated example of its type—Clean enacts a marketplace tragedy, a kind-of rock music New Grub Street for the era of global capitalism.

  • Assayas embraces the conventions and then transcends them – that is, no matter how many dozens of movies we've seen about junkies trying to go straight or how the death of a loved one can sark survivors to re-examine their own lives, the emotional truthfulness of Clean enters into our bloodstreams with its muted vigor, and we find ourselves getting hooked by this tale of getting unhooked.

  • ++

    Premiere: Glenn Kenny
    May 01, 2006 | Critic's Rating: 4/4 | Via Rotten Tomatoes

    Visually assured, beautifully acted, it's a movie of scrupulous straightforwardness — so matter of fact that you scarcely expect the emotional wallop it delivers at the end...

  • One false move and the movie would be plunged into some Sid & Nancy-cum-Kramer vs. Kramer morass of needlepoint bathos. But Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte not only give two beautifully modulated performances here, they also serve as emotional compass points—there’s something very exact and indicative about how they locate inchoate feelings and make them resonant, palpable.

  • This is absolutely Cheung’s movie. In Clean’s most indelible scene, Emily caresses the bare back of a man lying dead in his bed, having suffered a drug overdose. It’s not Lee. But from the color vanished from Emily’s face and the quivering of her body, it’s clear that it might as well be. It’s one of Cheung’s finest screen moments.

  • Of Maggie, as usual, little can be said that would fully honor the actress. The surprise is mostly in the quietness of the character, the lack of melodrama. Maggie’s face is used so modestly that it almost seems impassive, but it certainly is not. The open blankness of the face is of one finally seeing and understanding her experiences of seeing the same painful, condescending range of reactions from acquaintances, those who have long ago made a judgment of her character.

  • I find it exciting that every Assayas movie is an utterly conscious about-face from the previous one... Despite Assayas's signature hand-held camerawork (which is as gritty and beautiful as always), this is his most classical, stylistically conventional and emotionally powerful film.

  • Maggie Cheung has rarely looked so bad and hurt so good as in Clean... Slowly, as Assayas peels away his protagonist's protective covering, revealing the all-too-human creature beneath the spit and poses, we understand that – as with many of his other films – Clean is a portrait of aching lonelineness, of a radical disconnection.

  • It's a movie about a woman who begins in a state of severe disequilibrium and finds herself... in an opposite state of balance, clarity, and relative peace. The fact that it is not solely her triumph makes it no less moving. It certainly makes it far more honest than almost every other movie you've ever seen about spiritual regeneration. But it can only be properly understood if one reads the faces and gestures of its characters as carefully and attentively as one listens to the dialogue.

  • The film deploys its humanistic style in the service of legitimately interesting humans, who relate to each other in plausible, demanding, and affecting ways... Its sense of space and of place are beyond reproach, and without a Babel-like bone in its body, it captures the essence of a contemporary life lived across the outmoded borders of nation, region, genre, or conventionally defined gender roles—a life riven with self-destructive impulses but beginning to sound the first notes of stability.

  • Assayas' filmography is loaded with curveballs... so it's surprising that he'd play conventional movie-of-the-week material this straight. Though enhanced by a choice soundtrack (the use of Brian Eno is particularly strong), beautiful widescreen cinematography, and Assayas' usual cosmopolitan touch, Clean doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel. The film gets its distinction from the performances by Cheung and Nolte, whose scenes together are suffused with loss and unexpected mutual compassion.

  • Clean is like Assayas’s attempt to update Josef Von Sternberg’s “dress you up in my love” films with Marlene Dietrich, only swapping out pan-Asian exoticism, square-jawed studs, and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” for globetrotting cosmopolitanism, indie hipster refuse, and Brian Eno. You get the sense that the two divorced on the set of this film just to ramp up credibility a tad, even if the film’s spent enough time in small distributor hell to disprove that theory.

  • It has much of the same appealing, free-wheeling looseness that so invigorated Irma Vep – but only once does it really hit the magical heights of that earlier film. That coup de cinema is the shooting-up scene, when Eric Gautier's camera shows a remarkable widescreen, distinctly Michael Mann-ish nocturnal shot of the car, the river and the plant beyond.

  • To her credit, Cheung never plays the glamour card even once. She shows Emily's warts as well as her spunk, her terrifying weakness as well as her sometimes surprising strength. She doesn't show us either a diva or a Courtney Love-style she-demon. Instead she does something much harder. She creates a real person.

  • Hitting the ground in his ultra-naturalistic mode, Assayas only uncages his star's formidable smile once or twice and never demands our empathy, making Clean a uniquely pungent portrait of dependent personalities and the strain they put on the social weave. All the same and despite Cheung's deserved Best Actress win at Cannes, the feigned intimacy with inexpressible bio-emotional conditions like addiction and detox leaves us, as it almost always does, on the outside.

  • Weak, self-absorbed, ill-tempered, and devoid of glamour even in her casual bisexuality, the protagonist is a systematic inversion of the hot star Cheung played in the earlier movie, and despite her skilled acting (which was honored at Cannes), she can't make the woman very interesting in her own right—the most compelling performance here is Nolte's.

  • A sincere, well-intentioned, and technically proficient, but uncharacteristically trite and formulaic portrait of a drug-addicted, washed up celebrity and recent widow... 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.

  • Emily is a pill in any language, and I quickly tired of her seemingly endless whimpering and whining. Albrecht is a model of patience and sobriety by comparison, though he retains a healthy skepticism about the durability of Emily’s professed reformation. The music, such as it is, sounds to these untutored ears like a tedious mélange of rock and rap, with Cheung’s talk-sing delivery a distinct liability. Assayas has given us an international soap opera with little or no dramatic substance.

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