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CQ: Special Edition

MGM Home Entertainment

Starring Jeremy Davies and Angela Lindvall

Written and directed by Roman Coppola

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

When young Francis Ford Coppola wasn't busy redefining the classic Hollywood movie during the early 1970s, he occupied himself with spawning a new generation of gifted cinematic stylists. His daughter Sofia made her directorial debut with the fresh 2000 going-of-age chronicle The Virgin Suicides, and now in 2002 son Roman splashes onto the scene with a similarly ambitious, accomplished, and flawed curiosity called CQ.

In a story often generously referred to as inspired by Fellini's self-reflexive masterpiece 8-1/2, Jeremy Davies stars as Paul, a young American film editor cutting a low-budget, sexy, Mario Bava-esque sci-fi flick in 1969 Paris. Following trouble with a succession of directors, the reins are finally handed over to Paul, who must devise a fantastic ending to please his finicky producer (Giancarlo Giannini) and jump-start his career. But with his personal life split between dysfunction, pretense, and flights of fantasy, the neophyte director struggles for inspiration both within the film's suffocating artifice and without.

Coppola, who also wrote the screenplay, juxtaposes the candied cinematic fluff of Paul's feature debut, Codename: Dragonfly, with the stark and self-indulgent "personal documentary" he incessantly films in his spare time, and he nails both aesthetics as well as the personality types behind each.

Much like his sister Sofia's The Virgin Suicides, Roman's CQ is pleasing eye-candy, affectionately embracing funky retro kitsch without lampooning it, capturing a strong feeling of time and place through mood and music, and striking a strong note of empathy with an incredibly appealing young cast full of charisma and striking physicality. Both Coppola siblings, at least at this early stage in their careers, seem to have inherited their father's famous sense of aesthetics and infamous ambition, yet neither seem bothered to carry on his early attention to narrative. In tandem with The Virgin Suicides, CQ is full of fine moments but is otherwise largely aimless, unstructured, threateningly dull, and ultimately pointless. With all of their fetching quirks, neither film leaves a mark, which would be fine if it weren't for the ponderously half-assed attempts at undeveloped and ultimately unresolved themes.

Roman Coppola is good with actors, though, and there are many neat performances in CQ. Davies makes for a magnetic internal performer, Lindvall is striking in the twin roles as Paul's actress muse Valentine and her beguiling sci-fi character Dragonfly, and Coppola cousin Jason Schwarzman (Rushmore) makes a scene-stealing supporting appearance as a brash, hard-partying trash auteur. Perhaps the best performance, however, is provided by French actress Elodie Bouchez as Paul's neglected girlfriend Marlene, pointedly and sweetly (but vainly) puncturing his balloon of self-absorption. Also features Dean Stockwell, John Phillip Law, Gerard Depardieu and Billy Zane.

*          *          *

MGM gives CQ: Special Edition the all-star treatment on DVD, even though it's a fairly obscure title. Side One features both a great 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and a standard 1.33:1 option, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and a commentary by Roman Coppola and his cinematographer Robert Yeoman. Coppola freely acknowledges all of the cinematic references throughout and his debts to the European filmmakers of the 1960s, but the rest of the track is more sedate than it is instructive.

On the flipside of this special edition disc is a veritable booty of special features, of value mostly for their emphasis on the film's appealing kitsch qualities, which also dominate the groovy menu designs for this section.

Codename: Dragonfly contains the two cuts of the film-within-a-film. "Paul's Version" (14:32) features an optional (and extremely vapid) commentary courtesy of supermodel Lindvall, and "Adrezej's Version" (9:51) is essentially the same, but unfinished with intertitles marking missing scenes. While both of these edits offer an amusing look at the film uninterrupted, neither contains any footage unseen during the feature, and watching "Adrezej's Version" after viewing "Paul's" is an exercise in redundancy. Still, "Paul's" is, essentially, the best parts of CQ with the more tedious elements clipped away. Also in this section is the enticing trailer (:40) for Codename: Dragonfly and a fairy unimpressive featurette called "The Making of a '60s Sci-fi Film" (7:26) with some behind-the-scenes footage and interviews.

Featurettes offers five more perspectives on CQ: In "Actors Acting" (8:18) Coppola extolls the qualities of his principle cast members, both virgin and veteran, and the bonuses provided by having an on-set acting coach; "Chronique D'un Cineaste" (7:57) has director Coppola mirroring his central character with a personal documentary about the pre-production of his debut film, during which he narrates several slef-shot close-ups of his left cheek and laments over casting difficulties; "Cinematography" (7:58) self-explanatorily focuses on cinematographer Robert Yeoman's realization of the film's fetching visual style via interviews with Coppola and Yeoman; "Music & Sound" (8:48) focuses mostly on the nuances of Richard Beggs' sound design; "CQ: A Cinematic Odyssey" (6:58) provides a general overview of the production.

Mellow Live (7:37) catches the airy score-providing "electro pop unit" performing a two-song set, including the Codename: Dragonfly theme song, live at a 2001 Japanese music festival.

Personal Documentaries features four more P.O.V. featurettes on the making of CQ: one by Ellie Coppola (10:01), Roman's mother (who you might remember from her similar, more accomplished, duty on the Apocalypse Now documentary Hearts of Darkness), with an emphasis on the film's family connections; Sofia Coppola's take (7:31) is less informal than her mother's, simply following around cousin Jason Schwartzman as the crew prepares to shoot before piecing together a plain montage of moments from the film. Taking a rather more avant-garde approach is Mathieu (Kassovitz, perhaps?) (17:10), who seems to have treated the behind-the-scenes material and sounds as a kind of "found footage" exercise; likewise Xavier F. Martin & Sebastian Alouf (11:18) take a more experimental approach and the result is fairly droning and pretentious.

Also here are the trailer (which offers a much more entertaining product), a 75-photo-strong still gallery with thumbnails, and a series of hidden menus with several brief-but-amusing extra outtakes.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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