Octave (Peter Doherty) is the product of his times; born into a generation at the turn of the century that has nothing to fight for, he turns himself to the pursuit of the idle rich; debauchery. When his father dies, however, Octave meets Brigitte (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and vows to be a better man.
First off, lets address the elephant in the review. Yes, you are thinking of the right Peter Doherty; him of The Libertines and Babyshambles, who was more famous for his well publicised problems with substances until he reinvented himself and added the ‘R’ back to his name. Doherty plays, ironically or fittingly enough, a Libertine who reinvents himself as hopeless romantic and a man worthy of divorcée Brigitte’s affections. With Confession of a Child of the Century, Doherty has proven himself unable to act his way out of a paper bag. At first, his tendency to move his head around and change his expression passes for a meagre ability to act, but as the film rolls on, it becomes clear that the only things saving his performance are the voice over – which conveys much of the story and much of it’s emotion – and the reflected talent of Charlotte Gainsbourg. There is no doubt that Doherty has a talent for song writing, but although his character is likeable enough, he is utterly unable of carrying the film, and it seems as though the director knows this.
Charlotte Gainsbourg plays the object of Octave’s affections, Brigitte. Gainsbourg allows the character to wallow in misery then switch to carefree joy and – while that may be all she has to do on screen – she does it well. Lily Cole appears in the film for all of five minutes as the lover who scorns Octave and sets this whole chain of events in motion. Cole – turning away from her trademark red hair – moves from hysteria to forced calmness and looks good in a frilly white dress.
The film is based on a book of the same name by Alfred DeMusset and makes great use of the fin de siècle feel of France. Debauchery abounds and the idle rich have little to do but play and debate the faux philosophical issue of their time; does love exist? Initially, Doherty drifts from scene to scene in a fog of melancholy at the loss of his love before finding meaning and supposed peace in the land of his childhood.
It appears that director Sylvie Verheyde is aware of Doherty’s lack of acting talent and – in order to ensure that Confession of a Child of the Century works on some level has created a film that feels like an extended music video. Dramatic and emotional scenes – such as Octave and Brigitte’s journey toward love – are skimmed over in favour of showing long and meandering party scenes that are drowned in music at the expense of the dialogue. There is no doubt that the film looks good in terms of sets and costumes – apart from Doherty’s questionable haircut – and the soundtrack is great – as it would need to be – but Confession of a Child of the Century ends up feeling like Bel Ami with an actual love story.
Confession of a Child of the Century played as part of the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes (I would love to know what Jury President Tim Roth made of the film) and, while it fits the feel of the section, it also feels as though the film is this year’s House of Tolerance; another film that is set around the fin de siècle in Paris and looks fantastic, but feels vapid. This film feels similar and, at two hours long, appears to be caught up in it’s own prettiness at the expense of telling a story in a concise manner.
In all, Confession of a Child of the Century is an unsurprising debut from Peter Doherty. He has created the air of a raconteur around himself, so it is easy to see why he would choose this film for his acting debut. Charlotte Gainsbourg shines, but the film is overlong, rambles and is let down by it’s leading man’s poor acting.