“I woke up one morning and found myself famous,” wrote Lord Byron, one of the first celebrities in our modern sense of the word. Today, the notion of celebrity as a nightmare rather than a dream is already ingrained in our culture. Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love (2012) features a nobody suddenly thrust into the public eye, whilst Matteo Garrone’s Reality (2012) dealt with the toxic result of clawing ambition. In competition on the Lido, Xavier Giannoli’s latest film Superstar (2012) tells the story of ordinary man Martin Kazinski (Kad Merad), who is suddenly thrown into the limelight for no apparent reason.
On his way to work one morning, people start nudging each other, photographing and then mobbing Martin for autographs. No one knows why he is famous and the media, initially baffled, hurry to try and profit from this sudden phenomenon. Fleur (Cécile De France), an ambitious television producer, sees the potential of a reality series, but first of all wants him for the regular evening show she works on.
Things don’t go quite according to plan, however, partly due to Martin’s wish to continue his life as normal. Perhaps this is the reason he has become famous, because he is the only person left who doesn’t want to be, or perhaps he is a messenger with something important, something political to say. When the glib TV presenter (a witty sleazy turn by Cédric Ben Abdallah) refers to him as a ‘common man’, Martin becomes a representative for all the disenfranchised ‘common people’.
Adapting the Serge Joncour novel L’idole, Giannoli keeps Superstar moving at a fair clip, almost like a paranoid conspiracy thriller, but at some stage the film becomes predictable, the satire all too familiar. The film’s strongest moments are when the target is not so much the media as our identity as a mass of people. This is the connection between flash mobs and zombie movies, YouTube and sudden inexplicable fads.
Giannoli’s Superstar is far more satirical than Garrone’s Reality, a treatment of a similar topic, but both works also share a slightly magical quality in which there are no clear explanations for what we see. Byron here is conflated with Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, who also wakes up one morning to find a fantastic transformation has taken place.
The 69th Venice Film Festival runs from 29 August-8 September. For more of our Venice 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.