This is a very odd film for a British viewer to watch. It’s showing as part of ‘My French Film Festival‘ and it’s exactly the kind of film that I would have thought is unlikely to play in UK cinemas – yet the festival is sponsored by the film export agency Unifrance. The problem for British viewers is that this is a faux documentary about the comeback tour of a popular French singer and if there is one thing that doesn’t easily cross the Channel it is chanson. Wikipedia carries a useful definition of chanson, suggesting that:
Chanson can be distinguished from the rest of French ‘pop’ music by following the rhythms of French language, rather than those of English, and a higher standard for lyrics.
I’m not sure about the ‘higher standard’ but I can certainly see that chanson is all about the musicality of the French language and the tradition of poetry. Some of the greats of chanson have gained a profile outside the Francophone world including Charles Aznavour and Jacques Brel and earlier Charles Trenet, but mainly it is a closed world to Anglo ears. So too is French TV and Radio which feature in the film as part of the promotion for the tour.
The subject of the fictional documentary is ‘Guy Jamet’ who was popular from the 1960s to 1990s and is now touring a new album of ‘re-orchestrated’ hits in his 70s. The filmmaker is simply known as ‘Gauthier’ (played by Tom Dingler whose father was a genuine popular singer). He’s a young man we hear behind the camera, but don’t see until the final scene. The documentary is a ruse by Gauthier to find out what kind of person Guy Jamet really is. Gauthier’s mother has told him that Jamet is his father and that she met the singer on one of his tours. Gauthier’s plan is to convince Guy to accept having a camera trailing him throughout his tour and to talk face to face with Gauthier at his home and elsewhere. It’s a big ask.
When I started watching the film I hadn’t read too much about the production and I hadn’t realised that the film’s writer-director Alex Lutz was also playing Guy (and presumably singing) under make-up to age him 30 plus years. The make-up is very impressive but there is something odd about his performance. I’m around 70+ year-olds a lot these days and he is ‘acting’ being 70+ with physical mannerisms that felt a little strange. To do all this Lutz must have some ego but I realise now that he is a touring comic actor familiar with the kinds of venues Guy is appearing in and has performed in many French comedy films. This ‘mockumentary’ is meant to be a comedy and as Deborah Young of the Hollywood Reporter points out, there are many in-jokes that non-French audiences are unlikely to get.
I won’t spoil the narrative as such. Instead I’ll just argue that Guy is presented warts and all. Sometimes he is short with people and quite rude and at other time courteous and charming. He waxes philosophical and he’s sometimes pretentious but at other times he’s perceptive about the music business and sharply analytical. We meet his current and past lovers and gauzy flashbacks show us his performances with different partners thirty or forty years ago. In the case of ‘Anne-Marie’ we see the same character played by Dani in the present and Élodie Bouchez in the past. I’m not really a fan of the mockumentary style and I probably took the film too seriously. On that score I feel like I did learn something about French popular music and I enjoyed some of the performances. Most of the material Guy performs was written for the film by Vincent Blanchard and Romain Greffe.
Guy seems to have been well-received in France and has been nominated for several awards. If you want to view it, it is currently on Amazon Prime as well as via the Festival. Here is an American trailer, so it is getting a release there (as well as in Quebec?).