Claude Francois is one of the most celebrated French musicians of all time, most famous abroad for penning what would eventually become Frank Sinatra’s My Way, and whose death caused huge sadness in France. Cloclo follows his life from painful childhood to his bizarre demise, and all the peaks and troughs of his career between.
In the fashion of major biopics, Cloclo’s almost 40-year narrative follows its subject from problematic beginnings, this time with François’ childhood in Egypt under the stern rule of his father. Following the 1956 Suez Crisis, the family is forced to leave and head to Monoco, where François’s musicality first begins to surface.
The relationship built here between François (played by Jérémie Renier) and his father is complex, with François caught between his need to express his talent, and that of retaining his father’s approval. These scenes provide some of the only sympathetic moments for François, as his rise in popularity over the intervening years rather expectedly turns him into a fame-fuelled monster.
Marriages come and go, and relationships turn sour as François rises through the ranks of hotel and club singers to the upper echelons of musical popularity. Renier’s energetic performances of Cloclo’s hits are peppered throughout the piece, with the actor clearly putting everything he can into emulating the singer’s impressive dancing and huge stage presence. However, this energy filters into areas of the film to which they are not suited, with some of Renier’s gestures and acting style seeming forced instead of genuine.
However, these are in the minority, as his consistent portrayal of a man desperate to carve out a piece of the world for himself is convincing. The lengths that François is willing to go to in order to market himself are shocking at times, and Jérémie Renier handles this exasperating and, at times, sinister character with great skill.
Unfortunately, the noxious presence of the character begins to work against the film. Whilst it is not surprising to see the negative effects of fame on one so desperate for it, the generously long running time of Cloclo leaves you in the company of a man who inspires almost no sympathy or understanding. Whilst the point is well made, the character’s personality is not one to enjoy observing for such a long period of time.
The real joy of the film comes from the high level of style employed by director Florent-Emilio Siri. Each era that the film covers is captured well by everything from the clothes, cars, sets and even the haircuts. Aside from Jérémie Renier comically claiming to be 22 at one stage of the film with little to discern him from how he appears at the age of 39 later, the time periods are convincingly portrayed, with great attention to detail utilized by Siri. Renier’s uncanny physical resemblance to François is also used wonderfully to intercut between the film and real footage of the singer, adding a pleasing sense of atmosphere of years gone by.
Cloclo is a convincing exercise into the damaging effect of fame on one of France’s most celebrated musicians. Adored by many but loved by few, Renier’s Claude is unnerving, selfish and poor company for 150 minutes, despite his convincing portrayal. The film’s spectacle is impressive, with some genuinely brilliant work at times from Siri to construct the various years of Claude François’ life. However, this fine work is centered on a fairly vexing personality that perhaps may not deserve such attention, an issue that each viewer will have to decide upon watching.