Backstage, opening today at Shattuck Cinemas, is a story of obsession and fantasy, depicting the relationship between a pop star and one of her fans, a teenage girl who has come to idolize the singer to the point of zealous obsession.
Much of the plot may seem over the top, but director Emmanuelle Bercot based her screenplay on actual fan letters written to pop stars, fashioning these missives into a screenplay that attempts to explore the strange dynamic between the trappings of fame and the marketing of celebrity and the desperation of the young, impressionable consumer who becomes irresistibly drawn to the unattainable.
If the film seems at times to indulge too greatly in an adolescent world, to dwell on the clichés of the pop star lifestyle, it is important to remember that this is deliberate, that the film is essentially telling the tale through the eyes of a star-struck girl who has romanticized and glorified every facet of her idol’s existence. She is hardly an objective observer; rather she provides a filtered lens that colors the action with her own dreams, desires and pain.
Lauren, the star, is self-centered and melodramatic. She sees her success as something of a trap and her self image as a reluctant celebrity, combined with her troubled romantic life, send her into wildly inappropriate bouts of self pity. But Lucie, the young girl who worships her and, through a chance encounter, becomes her confidant, interprets this drama even more dramatically, seeing Lauren as a martyr, as an artist on a grand scale, and thus any impediment to Lauren’s happiness and artistic success is seen by Lucie as a force of evil intent on destroying a goddess.
The casting, by Antoinette Boulat and Bercot, is excellent. Emmanuelle Seigner has just the right aura, bringing to the role of Lauren great beauty and ferocity as well as vulnerability and emotional instability. And Isild le Besco plays Lucie with the appropriately ungainly movements of a budding adolescent, the stark, frightened, deer-in-the-headlights expression of a girl forever lost, and the sensual, maniacal, glassy-eyed gaze of a slightly unhinged fan seeking to forever bind herself to the object of her obsession. Supporting roles are often filled by non-actors who hold the same occupations as their characters; the security guard is played by a security guard, the record executive played by a record executive, etc., and the technique succeeds in bringing a certain veracity to the film’s otherwise heightened realism.
There are a few missteps however. Bercot created an entire album of original songs by Lauren and often relies a bit too heavily on them to carry the film’s emotional weight, with too many shots drowned out by music and too many scenes simplistically explained by Lauren’s lyrics. And her use of symbolism can be simplistic and heavy-handed as well. One of Lauren’s possessions, for instance, is a stuffed deer, meant to capture the nature of her own existence: innocence captured, killed, stuffed and always on display, a lifeless commodity used to adorn a hotel room just as posters of Lauren adorn the bedroom walls of teenagers all over France. Had it only appeared once, or perhaps only in the background, it might have been a more subtle and effective symbol. But Bercot features it so prominently it almost becomes a parody of the use of symbolism. In one scene Lauren appears is profile alongside the profile of the deer, just to make sure we don’t miss the connection; and in another shot, Lucie is seen caressing the deer and nearly kissing it.
But again, we are seeing this story through the eyes of a deranged fan, so perhaps these awkward moments can also be attributed to her skewed perspective. And ultimately that is where Backstage has its greatest success, in the presentation of that perspective. For whatever its faults and however silly its characters may sometimes be, viewers who remember the more dramatic fancies of their adolescence will recognize some degree of truth in Lucie’s delusions and the burden they inflict on the adults around her.
Starring Emmanuelle Seigner and Isild le Besco. Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot.
Written by Jerome Tonnerre and Bercot.
115 minutes. Not rated. In French with English subtitles. Playing at Shattuck Cinemas.
Photograph: Isild le Besco plays a teenage girl who becomes the friend and confidant of the object of her obsession, a glamorous pop star played by Emmanuelle Seigner, in Backstage.