2 comments November 7th, 2008at 11:51am Posted by Eli
A day without a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie is like a day without sunshine. But this one sounds a bit… different:
It might be odd to think of Mr. Van Damme, a veteran of steroidal exploitation cinema and a virtuoso of the bone-crunching split kick, as an old softie, but it is also perfectly consistent with the image overhaul implicit in his latest vehicle, “JCVD,” which opened on Friday. Directed by the French filmmaker Mabrouk El Mechri, it allows its namesake to reveal new facets to his screen persona basically by playing himself. A jokey hall-of-mirrors movie with a melancholic streak, it stars Mr. Van Damme — who turned 48 last month and whose last film to open theatrically in the United States was the 1998 flop “Knock Off,” — as Jean-Claude Van Damme, a washed-up middle-aged movie star.
Thanks in part to a widely circulating online trailer “JCVD” has garnered more attention for Mr. Van Damme than he has received in years. (The last time he made even a remote impact on pop-culture consciousness was when he appeared on “Friends” as himself in 1996 and boasted that he could crush a walnut with his buttocks.) “JCVD” was a word-of-mouth hit at Cannes, and it had its North American premiere at a raucous midnight screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.
It opens with an over-the-top action set piece from a film-within-the-film, complete with gunplay, knife fights and exploding grenades that was shot in a single take and that visibly pushed the star to his limits. “I was completely out of breath to the point of anxiety,” he said.
Mr. Van Damme’s more sensitive side is on jaw-dropping display in the movie’s pièce de résistance, a soul-baring six-minute monologue with more emoting than in all his other roles put together. His eyes tearing up and his voice quavering, he reflects on his dreams and failures, and effectively head-butts the fourth wall. (“I truly believe it’s not a movie.”)
When he watched it for the first time, he remembers thinking, “I didn’t lie.” He added, “It was scary for me to do it in French.” French is his native language, but this is his first French-speaking lead role, and he has been mercilessly mocked for spouting Zenlike aphorisms in Franglais on French television. (“Je suis aware.”)
Filled with whiplash digressions and weirdly poetic grace notes, the show-stopping speech is actually a fair approximation of how he really speaks. On his disillusionment with celebrity, he said: “I was so hungry for fame — not for fame, no — well, let’s be honest, hungry for fame, hungry for love. But then fame came, and it was not existing.”
On being engaged with his movies: “I want to be involved in that nine-month process. It’s like making a baby. You make love, and it’s the full way to delivery. How can I be mentally pregnant with the film all the way?”
I think I may actually need to see this…