Adapting the astounding life of 1960s/70s French pop sensation Claude François (aka ‘Cloclo’) for the big screen was never going to be an easy task for any director, regardless of past experience in the area. Yet that was just the challenge taken up by filmmaker Florent Emillio Siri who stepped up to the plate with Cloclo (2012), an admirable film which attempts to paint a vivid portrait of France’s answer to the Rat Pack’s Dean Martin. Sadly, what we ultimately get is a straightforward, overly-long biopic with all too little zest.
François, played by Jérémie Renier (who bears an uncanny resemblance to the singer), is best remembered for co-writing Comme d’habitude – better known as the original version of Frank Sinatra’s My Way. Before the fame and the glory, François was a young boy growing up in Egypt. Later, as the biopic shows, he would move to Paris and embark on a hugely successful musical career until his untimely and pedestrian death in 1978.
With a runtime of over two and half hours, Cloclo is not exactly swift and breezy viewing. Whilst there is a painstaking level of detail from Siri, who clearly has a great deal of affection for the subject matter, his film never quite attains the success of something like Joann Sfar’s French musical biopic Gainsbourg (2010). Admittedly, the structure used makes the most of the subject by switching between François’ public and private life, making it a more intriguing watch. François is shown without a celebrity veneer, exposing all the problematic personality traits of the volatile singer.
Cloclo was a notorious womaniser and whilst working through a series of women – each carefully cast (the finest performance coming from Maud Juarez) – we witness the sometimes child-like François react with irrational jealously, with Renier superbly replicating the charm the French star possessed. Undoubtedly, François was a complex character who coped with a gambling addict mother and a demanding father, both of whom he always wished to please, and thankfully these personal elements of the story are handled with care, never becoming sensationalist or melodramatic.
Despite the love poured into this project by Siri and his cast, Cloclo never quite breaks the mold of a run-of-the-mill biopic, only bolstered by the fascinating subject of its complex lead character. A tighter edit would have added a great deal of strength too – at times, the film feels a little too indulgently French, which may not gel well with international audiences. Yet as a thoroughly researched tale with some strong central performances, there is more than enough to please audiences interested in the life of one of France’s most beloved musical icons.