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CQ (2001)

by on 2011/02/27

“Your grandmother used to call dragonflies the Devil’s darning needles. She told me that they come in the night and stitch up your mouth if you use profanity or were otherwise voluble.”

* * * *

In my education, I’ve followed a couple of different paths. One exposed me to philosophy and, the other, cutting reels of magnetic tape with a razor blade. For me, writer/director Roman Coppola’s first effort recalls the tension between both of those endeavours.

Investigating the distinction and interplay between reality and fantasy, CQ is set in Paris, France, in 1969. An odd hybrid of Blow Up and the Flint series, it features Jeremy Davies (Saving Private Ryan, Secretary) as Paul Ballard, an aspiring filmmaker.

Intuitively he craves direction, connection, and fulfillment, but isn’t certain how to find them. His search takes the form of a home movie with which he captures the trivialities of his personal life, “pieces of me . . . me in pieces”. Desperately he shoots everything in his apartment, describing them, with nothing of substance to say. His girlfriend Marlene (Elodie Bouchez) believes the process is both invasive and, ironically, dishonest. Imaginary critics savage his pretentiousness and offer impractical advice.

By day he directs the second unit, edits, and loops audio for a science fiction flick, Operation: Codename Dragonfly. Before its completion, producer Enzo DiMartini (Giancarlo Giannini) fires the original director Andrezej (Gerard Depardieu). Paul is disappointed not to be promoted. Instead pompous B-movie wunderkind Felix DeMarco (Scott Pilgrim’s Jason Schwartzman) is hired to complete the project.

Paul’s relationship with Marlene grows strained by his distant restlessness. When the stresses of work and home finally overwhelm him, his latent fantasizing intersects with the world of Dragonfly. Its fictional heroine (Angela Lindvall) becomes as real to him as the woman he’s driving away.

Like its protagonist, CQ wants to explore the richness and fragility of communication and connection. Instead its craftsmanship becomes a dominant force, overshadowing meaning. It’s fascinating in its minutiae, if lacking in a message. To put my reaction another way, it’s more about “how” than “why”. For what it is, however, it’s an amazing ride.

Entertaining in its own right, the “inner” film, Dragonfly, boasts an outlandish tale of Communists (led by Billy Zane of Titanic and Tombstone) plotting to attack Paris from their base on the dark side of the moon. A pivotal prop resembles a fire starter plunged through a boxing glove. Vintage effects stand on par with Logan’s Run or Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Computers speak with French accents.

The production behind its science fiction world is just as quaint. Cosmic rays are realized by drizzling dyes into a water tank. Paul employs forced perspective models, non-virtual film cutting stations, and ADR facilities with massive, ancient headphones. Even the score by French group Mellow, though recent in origin, is indistinguishable from that era’s music.

So while Coppola makes gestures toward emotion, his results will appeal more to process-minded geeks than romantic seekers. Viewers may find their own connections and meanings, but the protagonists here are too blank or shallow to leave a lasting impression. The true star of CQ is Dragonfly, the movie within the movie. It proves that, sometimes, decoration is reason enough to seek out a film.

* * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States) for language and nudity

88 minutes

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