In Clean Maggie Cheung plays Emily Wang a 40-something ex cable TV veejay who has screwed up her life and become a junkie. When her hard luck musician boyfriend, Lee, dies of an overdose she is sent to jail for having supplied the drugs. After spending six months in jail she gets out and attempts to start a new life.
Emily and Lee have a young son who is cared for by Lee's parents, Albrecht (Nick Nolte) and Rosemary (Martha Henry) who live in Vancouver. Once Emily gets out of jail she doesn't insist on gaining custody of her son, which she has every right to do, but she would like to get her life back together to the point that she can see him again. She heads to Paris to start a new life but she has a tough time because of a methadone habit she started in jail.
The film, directed by French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, is not so much about drugs and rock and roll [although it has that] so much as a film about a woman trying to 'clean' up her life. Once out of jail Emily decides to pursue the dream of getting a record contract. But due to her age and her seemingly few contacts she is unable to break into the industry.
Albrecht, her father in law, is an understanding and patient man. At first he won't let Emily see her son but he is willing to do what he can to help her out. She writes him a letter stating her intentions and he is moved to the point that while in England with Rosemary - who is hospitalized there - that he considers letting her see her son.
The drama unfolds from there is a slow but sure way.
Clean should be seen if only because it stars Maggie Cheung [who won best actress at Cannes for her role] and Nick Nolte. How many chances does one get to see such an interesting pairing of actors from completely different film industries? It's almost like a DC comic book hero meeting one from the Marvel universe.
Clean was shot in Canada, England, France and the United States. But despite all the locations and languages it plays quite smoothly because it is a very well written, directed and acted. The characters fit their roles quite well and the story – while not too harrowing or tragic – is involving enough to keep the viewer interested.
Director Assayas - who also directed demonlover and Les Destinées sentimentales - is arguably one of the best independent filmmakers in the world today. He has great control over the mise-en-scene, and as a writer he explores character development as well as any screenwriter. So the question is; "how come Clean has yet to be released in the United States?" Part of the reason, I believe, is because Maggie Cheung is not a household name in the West like she is in the East. Plus, Nick Nolte's name can't carry a movie these days. Most importantly, perhaps, the film doesn't have the same angle of Assayas's last two movies. Demonlover had sex, violence and intrigue while Les Destinees fit the French-period-piece drama that does will in the U.S.
Despite all of this Clean is a really good understated drama that - while perhaps a bit too sincere - is heartfelt and worth a look.
This DVD is presented in the correct aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it looks excellent. The film was shot but Eric Gautier who has much mobility and excellent framing and depth of field. The DVD looks sharp and has been enhanced for 16 x 9 televisions.
Audio is in Stereo and sounds good across the board from from dialogue to ambient souce sound and- as in a number of Assayas films - the soundtrack is well above average. This one features ambient sounds by Brian Eno [notably from Taking Tiger Mountain and Apollo]. There are also rock tracks and a short piece byTricky - who shows up in a bit part. Maggie Cheung also sings two mellow tracks.
There is a press promo piece from Hong Kong that is entirely in Chinese with no subtitles. It lasts about 8 minutes. The best extras are the interviews. There is an Interview with Olivier Assayas [20 minutes] in which he mainly talks about the character motivations and the story. Next is an Interview with Maggie Cheung [13 minutes] in which she talks about the making of the movie, some of the development of the role and a hint of difficulty in making a film with Assayas her former lover. Last is an Interview with Nick Nolte [almost 7 minutes] that is the warmest of the bunch. He talks about his enjoyment of working with Assayas and a French independent film, which his agents were wary of. There is also a trailer and a photo gallery.
Clean is a very good French independent film about a woman trying to come to grips with her screwed up life. Well written, directed and acted the film is a top notch production across the board. For some reason it has yet to be release in the US and this DVD is actually Region 3 so it is still tough to find. If you have an all region player seek it out.
**Note: Beware of an inferior improper 1.78:1 DVD that is on the market. This DVD is presented in the correct aspect ratio of 2.35:1**