Of idols and monsters 

Emmanuelle Bercot — popular in France, little-known in the United States — may make a name for herself with "Backstage," opening today at the Lumiere Theatre in San Francisco.

In this film she directed last year, a teenage groupie’s fantasy comes true, turns into a nightmare, then is resolved with a bizarre and chilling double-cross, in relentless action that often borders on melodrama.

If Bercot did nothing else but cast Isild Le Besco to play Lucie, the true believer in Lauren, a Blondie/Céline-like pop star (Emmanuelle Seigner), she would deserve much credit. Lucie is totally obsessed with Lauren — her room a shrine to the singer, every word of her songs memorized and internalized — and Le Besco makes the character scarily believable.

A veteran of 32 movies, the 24-year-old actress has the face and temperament of a chameleon — she is far from "Hollywood-pretty" — but has a mesmerizing presence. It’s high time American audiences get to see her. Le Besco’s "strangeness, raw presence, combining a child’s gentleness with the disturbing qualities of madness" (in Bercot’s words) make an indelible impression.

Fan and star cross paths, and the monstrous diva brings the often catatonic idolater into her dysfunctional, chaotic life. All the power is on one side in this relationship, and yet — shades of "All About Eve"! — Lucie gets her way unexpectedly at times. A large, capable cast rounds out what is essentially a duet for the two women.

Without lecturing or preaching, Bercot unmasks ugly aspects of celebrity worship. Her script for the film ranges from pedestrian to insightful. As so many movies today, "Backstage" suffers from the lack of a decisive editor, overstaying its welcome by running almost two hours. It may remain unrated, but the realistic/intimate depiction of the pop star’s life definitely puts it in the "R"-plus range.

Backstage **½

Starring Isild Le Besco, Emmanuelle Seigner, Samuel Benchetrit

Written by Emmanuelle Bercot, Jerome Tonnerre

Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot

Not rated

Running time 1 hour, 55 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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