Superstar despite himself
by Domenico La Porta
30/08/2012 - After its recent release to lukewarm reviews in France, Xavier Giannoli (The Singer [trailer])’s latest film could well have dampened the mood of festival-goers who discovered it in the official competition at the 69th Venice Film Festival. Yet the story was able to maintain the audience’s attention, as it is based on a good idea that guarantees a good ride, as least for its two first acts. Superstar [trailer, film focus] starts off with a mystery, and succeeds in creating a certain tension within the well-explored theme of fame and its ramifications linked to reality TV.
Martin Kazinski — played by Kad Merad who was himself hurtled into fame in France after the success of Welcome to the Sticks [trailer] — is an anonymous man. In fact, this boring man in his forties is the archetype of an anonymous man, and it’s only by an inexplicable turn of fate that he will, one day, suddenly become a superstar. The crowd pushes and shoves to grab his autograph and to take his photo. He is followed everywhere he goes, and his private life is splashed across the tabloids and the Web. But what private life? Martin doesn’t feel he is worthy of all this attention. He wants everybody to forget him and to leave him alone, and he especially wants to understand what got him into this ridiculous situation in the first place (although this is never really explained in the screenplay). Fleur — Cécile de France in a role that has started to become common in her career — seems to want to help him. But she is part of the system creating all this misery, a television programme that hunts down sensational news and that, after having invited Martin on set, then plunges him even deeper into this nightmare...
Superstar is, in a way, an antithesis to Matteo Garrone’s Reality [trailer, film focus]. One character wants to escape fame, while the other aspires to it whatever the cost. Beyond a common downward spiral, these two anti-heros both live in a modest world, the reputedly boring underclass, an expression used as an insult in Xavier Giannoli’s film. The director freely adapted French writer Serge Joncour’s novel The Idol for his film, and has made the most of the occasion to spit his own acidic views on the French media empire. “Before, artists wondered how to become famous. Today, it’s the famous people who wonder how to become artists,” “people watch things that they despise”, it’s what happens “when you want to laugh and distract yourself all day long”.
Fleur’s character is sure that Martin is a messenger who has come to tell us something, a message whose importance even he fails to understand. In reality, Martin has just sounded the alarm bell, but even if he literally rings his bell in several scenes of the film, something in him is missing. This is in fact the case for most members of the cast in Superstar who fill functions (the cynical man, the marginal man with a big heart, the lost girl...) but rarely the full volume of a role. Without this thickness, the film struggles to move an audience whose members cannot identify with their representation in the film. The crowd looks more like a possessed mob whose reactions to what, after all, are normal people are difficult to understand. It may be what the director thinks of them, or a simplification in the film’s mise-en-scene, but something should have been normal, something rings untrue. It seems that it’s not always easy to represent banality in cinema. At a guess, the film’s distributors will have to seriously bet on Kad Merad’s popular support for it to last any longer than its 15 minutes of fame for having been selected for an international film festival.
(Translated from French)