M uriel Bayen (Sandrine Kiberlain) works in a beauty salon and has two children who live with their father, but that’s not nearly enough to keep her busy mind occupied. In compensation, she pours her energy into two questionable pursuits: telling tall tales (in an early scene, we see her inflicting one of her stories on her clearly bored children) and following the career of the popular singer Vincent Lacrois (the distinguished classical actor Laurent Lafitte). In fact, she’s so obsessive a fan of Lacrois that you might worry she’s planning to go the Eve Harrington route, but her heart is pure and so is her adoration of him (the French title, Elle L’Adore is a better fit for this film than the English version, which suggests something more sinister, along the lines of Robert D. Siegel’s 2009 film Big Fan).
Things take an unexpected turn when Lacrois accidentally kills his girlfriend Julie (Lou Lesage), an incident possibly based on the 2003 death of Marie Trintignant at the hands of Bertrant Cantet of Noir Désir. Lacrois is sorry, but not sorry enough to to sacrifice his career or his freedom, so his thoughts turn immediately to how to cover his tracks. But who can he trust? His number one fan, of course, and before you know it the two of them are co-conspirators in the attempt to make it all go away. Of course, they don’t actually know each other at all, but each needs something that the other can supply. Pursuing them are two detectives (Pascal Demolon and Olivia Cote) whose work on the investigation is somewhat impaired by their own deteriorating relationship, as they’re in the process of getting a divorce.
OK, the premise is more than a bit preposterous, but this is not the kind of film whose main purpose is to portray events that feel true to life. Instead, it’s a character study of a young woman who is more disturbed than she seems at first glance (Kiberlain, who excels at this type of role), and of the bizarre distortions of fan culture. While it’s hardly a slapstick film, there’s plenty of dark humor mixed in with acute observations of how people create their own little worlds and how easy it can be to lose sight of the fact that there’s a difference between the inside of your individual head and the shared reality that passes for the real world.
Number One Fan is the first film directed by Jeanne Herry, who knows something about fandom: her father was the singer Julien Clerk and her mother the actor Miou-Miou. Her directing is assured and professional and she draws excellent performances out of the actors. Axel Cosnefroy’s cinematography is delightful, as is Pascal Sangla’s score. Kiberlain and the team of Herry and producers Alain Attal and Hugo Sélignac were nominated for César Awards in 2015, and Herry won the Michel d’Ornano Award for best debut French film at the 2014 Deauville Film Festival. Although I give Herry credit for trying something unconventional for her first film, the weakest element of Number One Fanis the screenplay (by Henry with Gaelle Mace), which takes a lot for granted. It’s also frankly unconcerned with naturalism, so people looking for Hollywood-style, story-first filmmaking will be disappointed. In this case the telling is more important than the tale, however, and those who enjoy good acting and cinematography will find much to enjoy in this unconventional film. | Sarah Boslaugh
Number One Fan is distributed on DVD by Icarus Films. The only extras on the disc are trailers for three other films.