Director: Olivier Assayas

France-Canada-U.K.| 2004. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 110 min.

Best known as the glamorous Hong Kong star of such hits as Hero and In the Mood for Love, Maggie Cheung takes a much more emotionally demanding role in Olivier Assayas’ latest film. Cheung plays Emily, the wife of drug-addled rock star Lee, who dies of an overdose while on tour in Canada. Emily, who’s also an addict, has to serve a short prison sentence before returning to Paris, where she struggles to kick her habit and reclaim her life. It doesn’t help that many of her old associates prove hostile, seeing her as a bad influence on Lee and maybe even responsible for his death. Emily battles on, hoping to be reunited with her son Jay (James Dennis), who’s in the care of Lee’s parents. She strikes a deal with Jay’s grandfather, Albrecht (Nick Nolte), who agrees to reunite mother and son provided Emily cleans up her act.
Very different to Assayas’ other recent films (Les Destinees sentimentales, Demonlover), Clean sees the director returning to the grittier approach of his earlier work. The film also reunites Assayas’ with Cheung, who starred in his delightful Irma Vep as a bemused Hong Kong star filming a fantasy movie in Paris. There is much more at stake for Emily, who has to start from zero in building a new lifestyle and self-image. It comes as no surprise to learn that Assayas wrote the part specially for Cheung. ‘Clean is about someone who has let herself become a rock ‘n’ roll stereotype and in the process has forgotten who she really is,’ says Assayas. ‘The arc of the film is about what happens when the bubble bursts.

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