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Confession of a Child of the Century

by Philip Martin | September 25, 2015 at 2:21 a.m.
Brigitte (Charlotte Gainsbourg) comforts her wan young lover Octave (Pete Doherty) in Sylvie Verheyde’s period romance Confession of a Child of the Century.

Given the role personal charisma plays in their day jobs, you might suppose rock stars possess qualities that easily translate to the screen. David Bowie, for instance, has always been an arresting actor, although he never seems to be trying very hard. Mick Jagger has been effective in some roles, risible in others, but he's always watchable. Bob Dylan's range is limited, but he made a good "Alias" in Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle and Tom Waits are legitimately good character actors despite their established public personas.

Pete Doherty, of the Libertines and Babyshambles, is a British rock star who's probably best known on this side of the Atlantic as the former fiance and drug buddy of supermodel Kate Moss. In 2011 he was recruited to play the lead in Sylvie Verheyde's Confession of a Child of the Century, a French film based on the autobiographical 1836 novel Confession d'un Enfant du Siecle by poet Alfred de Musset.

Confession of a Child of the Century

85 Cast: Pete Doherty, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lily Cole, August Diehl, Volker Bruch

Director: Sylvie Verheyde

Rating: Not rated

Running time: 120 minutes

When that film played at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012 it was roundly mocked, probably because it was conducted in English -- apparently a concession to Doherty, who apparently has little French -- and because it seemed to take most of its dialogue directly from de Musset's translated prose, which caused the actors to have to declaim lines such as "nothing is beyond romance, except for the pain that is killing me every day" and "You understand, madam, that I am the greatest libertine in all Paris!" The European critics, they were not so kind, which goes a long way to explaining why the film never, until today, opened in the United States.

But if you know nothing about Doherty or his reputation (or his insinuation that during filming he and co-star Charlotte Gainsbourg began an affair corresponding to the one conducted onscreen, an indiscretion she didn't quite deny), then you might receive Confession of a Child of the Century as an interesting period romance, albeit one sprinkled with anachronistic behavior. In a way, the whole movie feels like the time Ringo Starr showed up as a sunglassed pope in Ken Russell's remarkably wacky Lisztomania.

That's to say it's odd, but it's not bad, though it will probably wear thin pretty quickly for all but the most epicurean moviegoers. It's set in the early 19th century where Octave (Doherty), a young aristocrat, throws himself into a life of licentiousness in Paris after learning that his mistress (Lily Cole) has been unfaithful to him. After his father dies, Octave moves to the country, where he falls in monogamous love with provincial widow Brigitte (Gainsbourg) who initially resists him but eventually moves with him to Paris.

Relative to the way romantic heroes are conventionally portrayed in period pieces, Doherty is a bit mumbly and method -- his acting style, if it can be called that, is thoroughly modern. But so is Gainsbourg, whose languor suggests a '60s Rolling Stone girlfriend. It almost feels as though Verheyde has intentionally cut and pasted a hipster couple into a convincingly dim and smoky production with a fetish for accuracy. The atmospheric cinematography, set design and costumes are all excellent, and the end credits are graced by "Bird Cage," Doherty's acoustic duet with Suzi Martin with lyrics by the late Amy Winehouse.

Another layer is added when you consider that de Musset's Confession was largely about his affair with Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, the writer better known as George Sand. (And it has been filmed before -- Juliette Binoche played Sand and Benoit Magimel played de Musset in 1999's Children of the Century.)

It all adds up to a curiosity, which isn't likely to make much of an impact with an incurious public. But if you're intrigued, Confession is worth a couple of hours.

MovieStyle on 09/25/2015

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