Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Men in Scarves

Last Sunday, The New York Times published "Lover Boys," a profile by Lynn Hirschberg of three up-and-coming French actors. Actually, they've already arrived. The author's point is that they have what it takes to become international stars, and not just national treasures. (To her credit, Hirschberg didn't use the word "treasure," but she/her editor did title the piece Lover Boys...) The trio consists of Mathieu Amalric (Kings and Queen), Gaspard Ulliel (A Very Long Engagement), and Romain Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped), the gent in the scarf. Here's the key paragraph on Duris, whose career I've been following since When the Cat's Away.

I attended a screening of "Dans Paris" at Cannes. It starred Romain Duris as a chronically depressed man who has complex relationships with his brother and his girlfriend. Duris’s performance was electrifying—surprising, moving, riveting.
It was completely different from his work in "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," released in America last year. In that film, a retelling of the James Toback movie "Fingers," Duris portrayed a small-time gangster who is also an aspiring concert pianist. The jumps in the film from the world of classical music to the character’s hectic life on the streets could seem contrived, but Duris makes every event both believable and fascinating. “That was a great performance,” Daniel Day-Lewis told me last year.
It was an apt compliment: Duris’s work in "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" was reminiscent of Day-Lewis’s breakthrough role in "My Beautiful Laundrette."

To have Daniel Day-Lewis praise your work--it doesn't get much better than that. To read more, please click here. (Bear in mind that most Times articles require registration and cease to be free after 14 days.) As for other Duris titles, I would recommend Cedric Klapische's Russian Dolls, the sequel to L'Auberge Espanol. Although I missed the first film, I enjoyed the second quite a bit (Klapische was also behind When the Cat's Away).

Based on the films I've seen, I do think Duris has what it take to succeed outside of Europe. I feel the same way about Denmark's Mads Mikkelson [below right], who appears this fall in Casino Royale--as sadistic Bond nemesis Le Chiffre--and has already worked in other international/non-Danish productions, like Spanish sex farce Torremolinos 73 (as a Scandinavian porn star, natch) and Jerry Buckheimer's revisionist King Arthur (with Keira Knightley's Guinevere as a scantily-clad warrior...yipes!).

In fact, I think the magnetic Mikkelsen has as good a shot at international success as Amalric and Ulliel--if not more so. For further evidence, try Wilber Wants to Kill Himself, Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands, or Adam's Apples. This isn't to take anything away from Amalric, a fantastic actor--and eerie Roman Polanski doppelgänger--but I do wonder if he isn't a little too offbeat for movie stardom, which is what Hirschberg was talking about. For those not yet familiar, give any of these titles a try: My Sex Life (or How I Got Into an Argument), Late August, Early September, and Munich.

As for Ulliel, he's too green to be placed in the same category as these older, more experienced actors. On the basis of André Téchiné's Strayed alone, I agree he's got talent, but it seems premature to anoint him a possible future great. (That said, he does bear a slight resemblance to the young Belmondo, and that can't hurt.) In the case of Duris, The Beat That My Heart Skipped made me a believer. Instantly. And irrevocably. Assuming stardom is what he wants, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.

Note: Images from The New York Times (Jean-Baptiste Mondino credited) and PhotoBucket Video and Image Hosting.

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