Portrait of a crooner

French pop star Claude Francois did it his way.

March 16, 2015 12:30
3 minute read.
Claude Francois

French pop star Claude Francois. (photo credit: PR)


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Hebrew title B’darki Sheli
Directed by Florent Emilio-Siri With Jeremie Renier, Maud Jurez, Josephine Japy, Ana Giradot
Running time: 2 hours, 28 minutes
In French.
Check with theaters for subtitle information.

If you like Eurovision, with all its cheesy pop excess, then you’ll love My Way (Cloclo in French), a biopic of 1960s and ‘70s French pop singer Claude François. He is best known outside the French-speaking world for writing the song “Comme d’habitude,” which became a hit for Frank Sinatra when Paul Anka used it as the basis for the song “My Way.”

The film My Way is a soapy and entertaining version of the often unsympathetic crooner’s life, and one that is slavish in its attention to detail about the singer’s life.

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This movie is part of a growing mini-genre, the French music biopic. Some of these films, notably La Vie en Rose, the Edith Piaf biopic directed by Olivier Dahan (for which Marion Cotillard won a Best Actress Oscar), are wonderful, while others, such as Gainsbourg, are strictly for fans of these stars. My Way falls into the latter category: Fans of Claude François will love it the most.

I have a bizarre fondness for 1970s French pop icons because my high school library had a subscription to the magazine Paris Match, and I used to read the highly theatrical gossip about these much-adored stars when I wanted to take a break from my homework. Because of my nostalgia for 20th-century French pop stars, I very much enjoyed the over-the-top My Way. But if names such as Sylvie Vartan, Johnny Hallyday and France Gall don’t ring a bell, you may not have enough of a feeling for the era and music to get much out of the film.

François (Jeremie Renier) had an unusual path to fame. He was born to a French family in Alexandria, and his strict father was an executive with an international shipping company.

When the Egyptian government nationalized the shipping industry in the mid-1950s, his family fled to Monaco, where his sister had just gotten married. His father was demoralized and became ill, and his mother began to struggle with a gambling addiction, but Francois found himself as a drummer on the lively nightclub circuit there.

Although his judgmental father wanted him to work as a bank trainee, François began singing and writing songs, as well as playing music.

In spite of his obscure origins, he had unshakable faith in his abilities. Something of a control freak, he married a beautiful British dancer, Janet (Maud Jurez), but made her life tough with his jealousy and demands.

Moving with Janet to Paris, he knocked on the doors of record executives, who at first were unimpressed with his songs.

Eventually he wore them down, but it took a toll on his marriage, and Janet went back to England.

Soon, though, he rather improbably became a huge star and heartthrob, in spite of his less than matinee idol looks, due to his clever adaptations and translations of American pop tunes.

Eventually, his biggest success came when a song of his was used as the basis for “My Way” and recorded by Frank Sinatra. By the end of his career, he had sold more than 67 million records.

Probably suffering from what today would be called a narcissistic personality disorder, his professional life soared but he constantly ignored or hurt those close to him. He romanced chanteuse France Gall (Josephine Japy) but withdrew from her when her success threatened to eclipse his own. Marrying another blonde, Isabelle (Ana Giradot), who bore a striking physical resemblance to France Gall, he used his eldest son for publicity purposes, then kept the existence of his second son a secret. If he seemed like too much of a family man, it would have been a turnoff to his legions of female admirers.

François was a genius for reinvention and conquered every trend that came along and made it his own, including Motown and disco music. He started his own record label, music publishing business and modeling agency, then failed to pay taxes and fought to keep his empire afloat.

The performances are good, especially Renier as François, although he looks a bit long in the tooth in the scenes when he is supposed to be in his early 20s.

The production design is extraordinary, rivaling the television series Mad Men for its attention to period detail.

In the end, though, the film plays like a long episode of Behind the Music on VH1, which, depending on your taste, could be either heaven or hell to sit through.

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