The Film: CQ (2002) BUY IT AT AMAZON!
The Principles: Roman Coppola (Writer/Director). Jeremy Davies, Jason Schwartzman, Billy Fucking Zane, John Phillip Fucking Law, and the Woman of my Dreams, Angela Lindvall
The Premise: Paul Ballard is a young filmmaker working in Europe as an editor and jack-of-all-trades for a volatile director (Gérard Depardieu) and a blustery producer (Giancarlo Giannini, hilarious as a Dino De surrogate named Enzo Di Martini). When screwball circumstances force a personnel change on the Swinging Sixties Superspy saga he‘s toiling on, it falls to Paul to save the film.
Meanwhile, his own low-key efforts to document the world around him are not going so well, as what he sees through his own lens is the dissolution of his relationship, and the erosion of his belief that he has a great story to tell.
Is It Good: Honestly, I think it’s fantastic. Coppola puts his all into his debut, crafting a refreshingly honest journey for his young filmmaking protagonist that draws on his own experiences, the history of his famous family, and the determination – and folly – of youth. In its often-gorgeous presentation (featuring lovely and exacting cinematography courtesy of Robert Yeoman – Wes Anderson’s DP of choice), the film is concocted like a nesting doll; Paul is making an arty “personal“ film, and CQ itself could also be seen as such, insomuch as it is Coppola mining/parsing his own love of cinema while pining for his own filmic future – and he’s making a movie about the making of a movie about the making of a movie – so it all gets very (M-WORD REDACTED). It really is one of the best movies about movies ever made.
CQ is steeped in a very specific era of film; the Bond-infused Eurospy flicks of the mid-late 60s, and as such, the production is a series of charming nods to old-school process shots and “special photographic effects.” Such brilliant attention is paid to period that, during a conversation between Paul and Enzo, the lavish hotel room is filled with poster concepts (for the film-within-a-film Codename: Dragonfly) crafted with such absolute fidelity to the era that it becomes a joy just to hang out in the room – never mind that Giannini’s Di Martini is a deceptively charming and hilariously disingenuous raconteur.
The cast is universally fantastic. It’s pretty impossible to consider standouts when everyone functions so perfectly in their roles. Davies alternates between bemused and bemusing, capable and confused. His life is happening right in front of his face, and he can’t quite carpe the diem. Supermodel Angela Lindvall is wondrous as Dragonfly’s female lead. Moving back and forth between earthy and ethereal, she expertly embodies the aware and earnest girl thrust into the mayhem of moviemaking, as well as the larger-than-life super spy Dragonfly. Elodie Bouchez takes what could have been a thankless role as Paul’s girlfriend and creates a portrait of an actual woman feeling justifiably jilted. She has one foot out the door when the film begins, but care is taken to not present her as a shrill harpie; instead, the relationship is presented as something entered into with the best of intentions that has soured over time because of Paul’s single-minded determination to create something of worth. Billy Zane, Jason Schwartzman (as what amounts to Gideon Graves’ dad) and Dean Stockwell (as the father to Davies’ character) show up in strong, strange support. And DIABOLIK himself – John Phillip Law – shows up to hit you with the evil eyes.
Is It Worth A Look: The film really does try to be all things to all people – it’s comical, and there’s a little romance…and a whimsical fantasy component (that maybe masks a psychological breakdown)…and a bit of adventure and intrigue – but the often peculiar tone and the period nature of the project might have been stumbling blocks for the mainstream, so what you end up with is a film that manages to be all things to really cool people. I’d advance the notion that If you like Wes Anderson or Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze or Wong Kar Wai – you should give this a try as a blind buy.
I would sacrifice small children to Lord Kramdar for a Criterion Collection release of this film, but as it stands, the DVD is inexpensive and filled with excellent content. And writing about it here makes me want to see it again right now. So I think I’m gonna’ go do that.
Random Anecdotes: The film opens with the period appropriate American Zoetrope logo, as the senior Coppola is the executive producer. The film is a family affair, as Schwartzman is on board, and Sofia shows up in a cameo (she also suggested Angela Lindvall as the female lead, so thank you very much Sofia). Angela Lindvall has distinctive ears.
Cinematic Soulmates: Francois Truffaut, Wes Anderson, Michel Gondry. La Dolce Vita, Danger: Diabolik, Operation Double 007, Secret Agent Super Dragon