Young filmmakers find the subject of filmmaking irresistible. Of particular interest to budding auteurs is the conflict between the desire to make the self-indulgent, pretentious "personal" film and working as a hired gun, especially if the project one is hired to direct is nothing more than a callow, commercial enterprise.
From Fellini's personal masterpiece "81/2" to the recent Woody Allen comedy "Hollywood Ending," the artistic foibles and ego of the moviemaker rival romance for how much of it has been documented on celluloid.
Roman Coppola, son of Francis Ford Coppola, follows in the footsteps of his sister Sofia Coppola, who made the respectable "The Virgin Suicides," with a film that is visually compelling and highly entertaining in an in-jokey sort of way.
Roman Coppola pays playful homage with this endearing send-up/valentine to personal filmmaking a la the French New Wave and to the B pictures that have influenced generations of moviegoers and shaped the careers of many a future auteur.
Jeremy Davies, doing his typical rumpled milquetoast routine, is Paul, an American living in Paris in 1969. Under the influence of the New Wave, Paul is making a personal film that consists mostly of documenting the mundane details of his life and pretentiously shooting his to-the-camera monologues and naked girlfriend as she sleeps.
Visually, "CQ" is a stunner. Coppola has mostly made music videos until now and his expert editing, and creative montages are delightful eye-candy. It helps that his production designer is Francis Ford Coppola's longtime colleague Dean Tavoularis, whose sumptuous sets and brilliant color schemes add richness to "CQ."
The other film-within-a-film is Paul's work on "Dragonfly," a sci-fi B picture that is part James Bond, part "Barbarella" and more "Austin Powers" than even "Austin Powers." It is a hoot to see Gerard Depardieu as a Roger Vadim-like continental director trying to make art out of schlock. When he's fired from the film, its Italian producer taps editor and second-unit director Paul to finish "Dragonfly." As the egotistical producer Enzo, Giancarlo Giannini is fabulously flamboyant as he offers up Dino De Laurentiis by way of Albert Broccoli.
The casting all around is inspired, owing much to the Coppola name, and gives "CQ" its winking insider fun. Roman Coppola's cousin Jason Schwartzman plays a smarmy hack director; and B-movie veterans Dean Stockwell and John Phillip Law (of "Barbarella" fame) provide a nice undercurrent of nostalgia.
As accomplished as Coppola's paean to filmmaking is, however, it isn't much more than that. For all the smart humor, clever writing, and visual sophistication, the most touching parts of "CQ" are Coppola's loving depictions of equipment: the gleaming editing table, the clunky microphones filmmakers used to hook onto their shirts, the beautiful, sturdy 16mm cameras five times the size of today's digital video recorders.
For all its visual zest, it is in these smallest details that the film is most winning.
Directed by Roman Coppola; written by Roman Coppola; edited by Leslie Jones; photographed by Robert D. Yeoman; production designed by Dean Tavoularis; music by Mellow; produced by Gary Marcus, Francis Ford Coppola, Georgia Kacandes, Willi Baer. An MGM release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:31. MPAA rating: R (some nudity and language).
Paul ...Jeremy Davies
Valentine/Dragonfly ...Angela Lindvall
Marlene ...Elodie Bouchez
Andrzej ...Gerard Depardieu
Enzo ...Giancarlo Giannini
Felix DeMarco ...Jason Schwartzman