Coppola wines were doing okay in 2001. The Coppola kids too. Although screened out of competition that May, CQ followed The Virgin Suicides a year earlier by also debuting at the Cannes Film Festival. Roman Coppola’s film, however, didn’t get half the attention that Sofia’s did. She had the pedigree (an adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ acclaimed novel) and the notoriety (for an undeservedly panned performance in The Godfather Part III) – a original brew. Worse for her male detractors, she was a woman.
By contrast, CQ opened in limited release in the United States the following year to tepid reviews. “Taken in busy bits and pieces, CQ feels like an accomplishment. Put together, the bits and pieces don’t fit so well,” Keith Phipps wrote in The AV Club. Fifteen years’ distance hasn’t improved on this judgment. Intermittently amusing, CQ is the sort of film that only a tyro filmmaker would make: punch drunk on the film canon, less sure about human beings relating to each other.
I wrote “punch drunk” because Coppola, who set CQ in 1969, loves French New Wave and period kitsch. Jeremy Davies (Spanking the Monkey, Saving Private Ryan) plays Paul, an editor of gangly nervousness assigned to Codename: Dragonfly, a piece of period sci-fi quasi-schlock written and directed by Andrezej (Gérard Depardieu, for once using his terrible English in the service of a character). When producer Enzo (Giancarlo Giannini) clashes with Andrzej over the picture’s ending, he hires Paul for a salvage job. In the course of filming, Paul falls in love with star Valentine (Angela Lindvall), whom he knows already from bouts of political activism. Codename: Dragonfly eschews politics; its models are Barbarella and Modesty Blaise, two extravagant cases of films places and times a long, long time ago in galaxies far, far away. Meanwhile Paul’s girlfriend Marlene (Elodie Bouchez of The Dreamlife of Angels, directed to emphasize every zut alors) tries to cut through the crap. Despite being hired to work on what is in essence a hack job, Paul insists, morosely, that he wants to “capture” something “real.” Marlene rolls her eyes. “What if it’s boring? Did you ever think about that?” she says.
Thanks to production designer Dean Tavoularis and cinematographer Robert Yeoman, CQ boasts a convincing period look. Paul’s reveries, shot in black and white, summon mid sixties Godard pictures like Vivre Sa Vie except the joke’s on him. Davies is almost too well cast; he dithers beautifully. I can believe Giannini, eyes flashing behind horn rims and salt and pepper hair parted to the right, was getting revenge on Marcello Mastroianni, who rivaled him on the international stage. A chase scene in the final third distracts but in keeping with CQ’s insouciance.
A decade later, Coppola released his next film to a different reception. If CQ was an homage to his favorite late sixties cinema tropes, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is a parody in search of a target and a point.
CQ will screen at Miami Beach Cinematheque tonight at 8:45 p.m. I will introduce the film.