A "Backstage" Breakdown

Dennis Harvey January 4, 2007

Teenager Lucie (Islid Le Besco) is a fan of glamazon pop diva Lauren Waks (Emmanuelle Seigner). No, she is really, really, REALLY a fan — even by the frequently hysterical standards of teenage pop-idolatry. So when a TV crew shows up with Lauren herself at Lucie’s suburban home, hoping to capture this superfan’s reaction to a “dream come true” meeting with her idol, Lucie is overcome — but not with joy. In fact, the “surprise” hits her so hard she practically has a psychotic break, ruining the TV segment and pissing off her goddess in “Backstage,” the “Zoom!” feature at SF International last spring, which opens at the Lumiere Friday.

Once a certain grasp on reality has been regained, Lucie interprets what happened as a magical intervention of Fate that she failed to grasp appropriately. Clearly, the gods were saying that she and Lauren do have a deep psychic connection, even if the singer doesn’t know it yet. Lucie manages to successfully run the gauntlet protecting star from her public, accessing the hotel room where Lauren does what she does offstage: Throw tantrums, indulge addictive behavior, torment her paid flunkies, humorlessly incarnate classic European art film behavior (you know, “No one loves me!” followed two seconds later by “Get away from me!”), and generally act like a spoilt child. Improbably, she decides to tolerate Lucie as combination go-fer, “new best friend,” and human toy.

What a terrible thing to happen to an impressionable young girl, you might think. But in fact the awful Lauren is the one you should worry about — because Lucie turns out to be precociously twisted enough to make her “idol’s” petty manipulations and dysfunctions look like rank amateurism on the Bad Mental Health scale.

Movies that come in French with subtitles to your local arthouse are elevating affairs; “Backstage” is refreshing in part because it’s so lurid. Its bad people behave so horribly that one would only need to tweak the script the teensiest bit to make it into a horror film. (There’s horror here, but it’s psychological horror — in the sense that psychologically, these people are just horrible.) You could read something Important into “Backstage” about our unhealthy obsession with celebrity and fame, etcetera. But such heavy lifting is not required to enjoy this updated, Grand Guignol-tinged “All About Eve.”

Seigner, who wrote and performs “Lauren’s” songs — which are such convincing Enya-meets-Piaf Euroschlock one can imagine movie fans unironically making the soundtrack a hit — chews the scenery with gourmet deliberation, while Le Besco is her perfectly creepy counterpart. Director/coscenarist Emmanuelle Bercot exerts all the careful, clinical control that her characters do not. Think of “Backstage” as a coke-snorting, mascara-hogging companion piece to “Notes on a Scandal,” another twisted-sisterhood story in which the helper becomes the hunter. It’s a semi-guilty pleasure worth recommending to anyone who likes a little trash with their art, or vice versa. A U.S. remake is reportedly in the works — let’s just pray it does not involve Madonna.