It’s one of the best-known songs ever written, but how many of us realise the ultimate karaoke classic, ‘My Way’, actually started life as a French chanson, ‘Comme d’habitude’? In the Anglophone world, its co-writer Claude François is the answer to a trivia question, yet in France he was a cultural icon, a ’60s popster and a ’70s crooner scorned by the critics but beloved by a nation. As this full-on biopic reveals, however, he was also a deeply troubled individual, incessantly driven to prove his worth to a stern father scornful of the entertainment world, yet all the while embodying his dear old dad’s toxic personality – a manipulative, preening egomaniac.
Best-known for his portraits of addled youth for the Dardenne brothers, leading man Jérémie Renier is not only an uncanny lookalike for Cloclo (as François’s fans nicknamed him) but delivers a tremendous performance, from demented-marionette dance moves to volatile drama-queen freakouts. Vividly capturing the sheer campery of the yé-yé era’s Gallic co-option of Motown grooves and moves, ‘Cloclo’ peaks with an emotional piledriver of a sequence building from the creation of ‘Comme d’habitude’. Unfortunately, it loses impetus in surveying the following decade, flailing around in detail and never landing a killer thematic punch. Still, it’s fascinating for all that, and Renier proves oddly touching as the ill-fated idol whose determination to win love by controlling every aspect of his life leaves him ever more isolated. As Gallic showbiz sagas go, it’s far better than ‘La Vie en Rose’, but not quite as distinctive as ‘Gainsbourg’.