Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Agathe Cléry is one of those astoundingly rare filmmaking achievements that works on nearly every conceivable level. It’s an idiosyncratic musical, caustic satire and rapturous comedy all blended into a capricious Gallic delight.
Unheralded but outstanding French character actress Valérie Lemercier plays the titular character, a talented marketing executive at a major cosmetics company. Agathe is in charge of their new line of cosmetics promising porcelain clear skin called "Scandinav" and has just been promoted to Director.
As Agathe effortlessly scales the corporate ladder, she is conversely increasingly despised by her co-workers. Despite her admirable dedication to her job, Agathe is snobbish, arrogant and blatantly racist.
The tagline for the movie is all you need essentially to get the premise, “She is white. She is racist. She will become black. (Elle est blanche. Elle est raciste. Elle va devenir noire.)”
Agathe is suddenly diagnosed with a unique and incurable form of Addison’s, a disease which causes hyper-pigmentation of the skin. This means that the healthy tan she seems to be getting will turn exponentially darker, until she wakes up one day with the skin colour of the people she hates the most.
Her friends begin to shun her, her husband can’t stand to touch her and she gets fired from her job. Faced with the reality of the becoming a black person, dealing the same vicious discrimination and taunts she used to dish out so frequently, she struggles to accept her new paradigm in life.
It’s not the first time a premise like this has been broached. Notably Mario Van Peebles’ Watermelon Man explored a similar theme, with a bigoted white insurance salesman in the 60’s who wakes up one morning to find that he has become black.
However it is the first time it has been framed within a whimsical musical world which prevents the film from falling into the trap of being overly heavy-handed. Co-written and directed by Etienne Chatiliez, Agathe Cléry is a light-hearted take on a very serious subject that straddles the fine line between peachy fun and preachy allegory.
The musical numbers are fantastically oddball. The film bursts with beguiling joy from the very first superbly choreographed number at a train station.
Inescapably toe-tapping song-and-dance sequences “Besides That, She's Not a Racist” and “Black Is Black” together with a hilarious dance number featuring a drunken Agathe tearing up the dance floor to Soft Cell's Tainted Love are memorable highlights in a film filled to the brim with memorable highlights.
Agathe Cléry isn’t particularly groundbreaking but its intent and execution are carried out flawlessly. It’s early in the year but this is already a candidate for my favourite 2010 film.
Agathe Cléry is now showing at The Picture House.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini, aka inSing.com's Movie Lover, is 23-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for Metrowize Asia.
Hidzir is the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.