Dir: Yann Moix. 2004. France-Belgium 2004. 95 mins.
A mild satire on the morbid contemporary phenomenon of pop celebrity cloning, Podium owes what energy it has to its Belgian star, Benoit Poelvoorde. Directed by Yann Moix, a former journalist who published the story as a best-selling novel in 2002, the film has become a sleeper hit in France (over 3 million admissions) but is mostly for local consumption in French-speaking territories.
Though the central premise is far from original and the satiric potential of pop wanabees has been seen before, it may offer remake potential for enterprising producers and film-makers hoping to cash in on the current vogue for reality TV and celebrity-oriented talent shows.
Poelvoorde plays Bernard, a forty-something bank employee who believes his vocation is to be the look-alike of Claude Francois, the heavily sequinned and asexually kitsch French pop music icon who in 1978 achieved an absurd immortality of sorts by getting himself electrocuted in his bathtub. The success of Podium undoubtedly reflects Francois's still recognised place in the pop pantheon as well as Poevoorde's rising star in mainstream French comedies.
For non-French music fans, Francois is basically known as the co-author of the 1967 hit, Comme D'habitude, which Paul Anka famously made over and Frank Sinatra immortalised as My Way. (Elvis appropriated another Francois hit as My Boy.)
The plot revolves around Poelvoorde's driving ambition to win a televised celebrity lookalike competition (the film is co-produced by leading French channel, TF1, a purveyor of similar variety fare and the kind of reality shows the film sends up). To fully re-enact the pop singer's act, he must train his own quartet of scantily-clad backup dancers (modelled on Francois's nubile 'Clodettes').
Plot complications are provided by the growing disapproval of the hero's long-suffering wife (Julie Depardieu, adequate in a thankless role) and attempts by a rival to get Poelvoorde disqualified from the contest.
The script is predictably contrived and the direction conventional, leaving the burden of interest on Poelvoorde's shoulders. In the film's best moments he burns with that frightening comic intensity that has made him one of the most giftedly off-beat talents in contemporary European cinema, though he finally fails to make his character convincing.
Nor can he redeem the sentimental final plot twist, in which he finally makes it to the TV studio, only to perform a song by another singer, who happens to be his wife's favourite. The script also fails to justify the one-note role played by TV comic Jean-Paul Rouve as Poelvoorde's equally cracked henchman, himself the talentless replicant of eccentric pop star Michel Polnareff.
Special effects department provides one of the film's more effective highlights when Poelvoorde, who has tried to electrocute himself like his idol, ends up in the hospital where he fantasises a duet with the real Claude Francois at the piano. But the scene also emphasises the fact that, apart from the blonde wig, Poelvoorde physically has nothing in common with the pop singer.
Prod cos: Fidelite Prods, K2, TF1 Films Production, M6 Films
Fr dist: Mars Films
Int'l sales: Wild Bunch
Prods: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
Scr: Olivier Dazat, Yann Moix, Arthur-Emmanuel Pierre based on Moix's novel
Cine: Benoit Delhomme
Ed: Philippe Bourgeuil
Proddes: Arnaud de Moleron
Costumes: Catherine Bouchard
Music: Jean-Claude Petit
Main cast: Benoit Poelvoorde, Jean-Paul Rouve, Julie Depardieu, Marie Guillard