Emily Wang (Maggie Cheung) is a woman who wrestles with her dream of becoming a singer, her fitness as a mother, and daily life without her partner Lee (James Johnston). Her past is riddled with drugs and regrets, the res... more »ult of which left Lee dead in a desolate motel room in Hamilton, Ontario, and landed Emily with a six-month jail sentence. The only thing that she desires for the future is a loving relationship with her son Jay, who is being cared for by Lee?s parents, Albrecht (Nick Nolte) and Rosemary (Martha Henry). While Rosemary blames Emily for the death of Lee, Albrecht recognizes the importance of the bond between a mother and her son, and his faith sets the standard for the faith Emily must find in herself. CLEAN follows Emily to Hamilton, Paris, London and San Francisco and in three languages, as she battle for a place in a world reluctant to forget the woman she has been and unwilling to accept her as the woman she longs to be.« less
A Vibrant Portrait of Struggle with One's Own Inadequacies.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 08/22/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Clean" is the second film that director Olivier Assayas wrote with actress Maggie Cheung in mind. When they first collaborated on 1996's "Irma Vepp", Cheung was a big Hong Kong movie star whom Assayas didn't know well. Now Cheung is Assayas' ex-wife (their divorce was finalized during filming), and "Clean" provides her an opportunity to create a more intimate portrait. The result is one of the most striking performances of 2004, for which Maggie Cheung won a Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival and a French Cesar nomination in 2005. Cinematographer Eric Gautier was likewise honored with a Cannes win and Cesar nomination. "Clean" is a French independent film but has a wonderful international quality -due to its diverse cast and locations- without sacrificing its clear sense of place in Canada and Paris, France. Assayas cast real musicians wherever he could, in keeping with docu-drama and neo-realist traditions of populating movies with authentic supporting players.
Lee (James Johnson) is a talented rock musician and songwriter whose career has fizzled in part due to a heroin habit. His junkie wife Emily (Maggie Cheung), an aspiring singer, is argumentative, unrealistic, and generally hated and blamed for Lee's demise by his friends. When Lee dies of an overdose, Emily is busted for heroin possession. When she gets out of prison, Lee's father Albrecht (Nick Nolte) is kind to Emily but asks that she not make any attempt to see her son Jay (James Dennis), whom Albrecht and his wife Rosemary (Martha Henry) have raised since Emily and Lee abandoned the boy on account of their itinerant, wasted lifestyle. In no position to take care of a child anyway, Emily returns to Paris, where she had a career and good contacts in the entertainment industry. Trying hard to stay off the drugs and hold down a job, with uneven success, Emily decides that more than anything she wants to see her son.
Emily is not likeable. She is needy and tenacious. She makes bad decisions. She's not sure if she'd rather have a settled, safe life or be a junkie. But she knows she wants to know her son. Somehow her desire to connect with Jay and her struggle, though not always triumphant, to normalize her life reaches out to the audience. Emily makes things difficult for herself and for those around her. She's not someone I'd want to be around in real life. But she is fascinating and empathetic in this film. Nick Nolte deserves praise as well for his craggy, perceptive grandpa, who is intimidated by children but loves his grandson and reaches out to Emily. The odd cast of characters who are Emily's circle in Paris make an interesting tableau. They are vivid enough to keep us interested in a lot of scenes that are superfluous. Vibrant writing by Olivier Assayas keeps "Clean" from resembling one of those plodding, overbearing "portrait of a junkie" films. In English, French, and occasionally Cantonese with English subtitles.
The DVD (Palm Pictures 2006): Bonus features are 5 interviews plus a theatrical trailer. Olivier Assayas (19 min) discusses (in English) the significance of the film's title, developing the character of Emily, Maggie Cheung's acting style, working with Nick Nolte, and using real musicians in the film. Maggie Cheung (14 min) talks about Emily and how she and Olivier work together. Nick Nolte (7 min) talks about working on French independent film and working with Assayas and cinematographer Eric Gautier. Tricky (4 min), a British musician who has a small role in the film, recounts how he met Assayas. Metric (3 min), the band that appears in the opening scenes, compare making movies to being on tour. Optional English subtitles for the film."
Maggie cheung at her best
Joseph Bernstein | Providence, RI United States | 07/18/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My review title is a little deceptive-Maggie Cheung is always at her best,even in films which aren't that good-she's made a phenomenal number of films(80 something)in a relatively short span of years and I've never seen her turn in a substandard performance-Clean is well-directed,has excellent cinematography(particularly the early scenes in Hamilton,Ontario),good location shooting and an interesting story that doesn't try to overreach itself by trying to be more than what it appears to be-the effects of irresponsible living on a number of lives-Nick Nolte turns in a terrific sensitive performance which is somewhat different from what he is generally known for(although he reprises a similar mood in The Beautiful Country) and the rest of the cast is competent and believable.Maggie Cheung may well be the most versatile actress in the world-she's played every imaginable role-as much as I admire her I wouldn't recommend that she should make any more films that involve her singing-no one can be talented at everything."
Terrific Performances And A Lack Of Theatrics Make This Addi
K. Harris | Las Vegas, NV | 05/13/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Addict" films are a dimebag a dozen. Whether alcohol or drug related, portraying someone in need of a fix can be a great way to showcase your acting chops. These films tend to fall into two categories, however. Either the addict leads a desperate life to his/her ultimate demise or there is a revelatory moment where our character decides to reform! "Clean" adheres to these rules, but thwarts them at the same time. In an intriguingly straightforward and unsympathetic narrative, "Clean" presents the story of Emily Wang (played by the great Maggie Cheung). And while Emily's story may not cover new ground, her character is refreshingly believable and flawed. Emily is a mess and "Clean" never asks us to feel sorry for her. I, for one, appreciated the character ambiguity that allowed Cheung to flesh out a remarkably complex role.
Cheung is a former celebrity hoping to reignite the singing career of her husband while harboring her own entertainment aspirations. Their tempestuous relationship is plagued by failure in the music business and a dependency on drugs. Their son is all but forgotten and living with Cheung's in-laws in Canada (led by a restrained Nick Nolte). When tragedy strikes, Cheung's life is stripped away as she faces prison and the possibility of reform. Wanting to reestablish a relationship with her son, Cheung attempts to redefine her place and battles to get and stay clean.
Many "addict" films are fueled by powerful, but often over-the-top, performances. Cheung's portrayal, however, is remarkably understated and much more realistic due to its lack of big showstopping theatrics. This is just a real woman, complicated and not particularly likable, who is trying to put her life back on track. You root for her even as you are aware of her many faults and inadequacies. Interesting and believable, she seems just as likely to doom herself to failure as she is to make the right choices for her life. More intelligent than "smart," Cheung is her own worst enemy--and realizing what is necessary to get her son back is often easier than actually taking the appropriate steps to do so. She and Nolte share some great scenes--filled with both compassion and mistrust in equal measure. And her interactions with her son have a remarkable candor and dignity.
Cheung delivers this astute performance in three languages--Cantonese, French and English--and she is the primary reason to watch "Clean." Taking Best Actress honors at Cannes for this film, she has proven herself to be a dynamic talent. The film is alternately downbeat and hopeful, and it straddles this line adeptly. The film's quiet resonance will stay with you--there is a haunting, lyrical quality to this picture rather than moments of great revelation. Thus, the film remains a complex character study that is grounded in reality. Definitely worth a look! KGHarris, 05/07."
"Clean" is a striking and touching film that turns around the progressive transformation of woman from Chinese origin, who loses the custody of her own son after his husband (a famous rock star) dies from an overdoses.
The tragedy has several plots, the main hast do with her and her social environment. The initial contact with the fathers of his husband, (superbly performed by Nick Nolte), her decision of living in Paris trying to recover a new life and the enormous internal conflicts respect her previous dependence. On the other hand the implacable opinion of the grandmother of this child who induces him to think she was the real guilty of his father's death, and finally the clever steps made by the grandfather (Nolte) when he has to move to London in order to deal with the future release of three albums of his son.
What it shocks and engages from this picture is the extraordinary, fluid and organic script, the horrid situation she must surmount in order to deserve a minimum of respect before the society, her son and herself.
The suggestive end is arresting suggesting us she won at last the expected possibility to win the custody due the imminence of death of their parents in law. "
Cleaning the wound...
Andrew Ellington | I'm kind of everywhere | 01/07/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For a film as crisp and `clean' as `Clean', there is an air of dirt that never seems to leave the audience. This is a good thing, for with a subject as controversial as drugs and parenthood, `Clean' needs to stir around in the grime of the situation. Thankfully, our director found that much needed balance between the clean and the grime so as not to create something unnaturally saccharine or too unholy in destitution. `Clean' strikes a beautiful balance and delivers a tragic yet heartwarming tale of life at its most complicated.
The film centers around Emily, the girlfriend of musician Lee. When Lee dies of a heroin overdose Emily finds herself incarcerated and, upon release, at the bottom of the totem pole so-to-speak. Lee's parents basically blame Emily for their son's death (as if he was incapable of resisting drugs while around her) and so she is practically shunned. What makes matters worse is that Emily and Lee had a son, and that son is now in the custody of Lee's parents who don't see Emily as a fit parent (she's not).
What's a girl to do?
As the tagline for this film suggests, when you don't have a choice, you change.
As Emily struggles to right herself, her father-in-law Albrecht struggles to understand his emotions towards her and his now deceased son. It would be easier to just write her off as everlastingly unworthy, but with the loss of a son comes the birth of a daughter and so Albrecht finds himself Emily's only supporter.
Some have mentioned that this is not a `new' story, but as I have come to realize there are very few of them floating around here today. What it boils down to is HOW you tell your story, and this story is told brilliantly. The script is tightly woven and effortlessly captures the inner struggle, the outer trials and the beauty that comes from triumph WITHOUT ever playing too much to either side. The acting is such a beautiful thing to witness here, with Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte delivery some of their finest work to date. Cheung (who masters multiple languages here) portrays Emily's emotional complexity with an earnestness that is hard to forget. By sidestepping the clichéd breakdowns and theatrics that often litter a film of this nature, Cheung is allowed to develop a natural progression (and display) of pure emotions. Nick Nolte (at his most reserved and subtle) delivers a breathtaking glimpse at a man defying his personal loss. He finds a sort of salvation in Emily, or at least in his personal convictions toward her. By being her sole-support system, he has given himself reason to outlive his own son.
`Clean' is a marvelously crafted and beautifully told story of pain, loss, addiction, love, faith and eventual redemption; and what could be better than that!"