When a fading rock star overdoses in a run-down motel, his junkie widow Emily (Maggie Cheung), already reviled by the press for ruining his career, takes public blame for his death. After a spell in prison, she moves to win the trust of her elderly in-laws who have taken custody of her young son. Clean paints an effective picture of the rougher end of the music industry, but a formulaic plot and a dank script make for humdrum and humourless melodrama.
Penniless, Emily first looks for help in her old showbiz circles, but a series of rejections force her to function in the real world. Her mother-in-law, meanwhile, is getting ill - and her father-in-law knows that one day Emily will have to take her son back. Clean manages a few things really well; the landscape photography of industrial Canada is breathtaking, and the portrayal of live music is as kinetic and involving as you could wish for. There are performing cameos from the likes of Tricky and some of the better indie journeymen - and even Emily's soon-deceased husband is played by James Johnson, Nick Cave's crony and singer from Gallon Drunk.
"LITTLE IN THE WAY OF VERVE"
Director Olivier Assayas (Demonlover, Irma Vep) gets right inside the music business, but never inside the head of Emily. Although it earned her Best Actress at Cannes 2004, Cheung's sincere, subtle (and trilingual) performance brings little in the way of verve to Emily's story. Nick Nolte's wise old man act is becoming a familiar pleasure - here as the father-in-law, he's wonderful - but he can do little with an increasingly creaking plot. And the ending, when at last it comes, is cheap and undeserved, and sullies what good had come before.
In English, Cantonese and French with English subtitles.