If Sofia Coppola’s ethereal The Virgin Suicides lifted the weight of a burdensome family name off the first-time director, big brother Roman’s CQ helplessly calls attention to the paternal munificence that made it possible. Endearing but pointless, at once cluttered and tinny, this film-dork fantasia suggests a shopping spree at a high-end vintage emporium underwritten by Daddy’s blank check. Except the lucky boy seems to have trouble sustaining his enthusiasm. Set in 1969 Paris, Coppola’s fastidiously in-jokey movie means to acknowledge the sex-kitten space-age fromage of Barbarella as well as l’esprit nouvelle vague. The deluxe op-art production design by longtime FFC cohort Dean Tavoularis is fresh from the stereolab, but CQ remains oddly studied and impersonal for an avowed fetish object.
Jeremy Davies plays Paul, a young American abroad paying dues as an editor on a sci-fi romp called Dragonfly while shooting a black-and-white memoir/wank, a sort of David Holzman’s Diary minus the concept: toilet-seat ruminations, coffee cups, cigarette butts, his naked French girlfriend (Elodie Bouchez doing Anna Karina) taking a nap. After Dragonfly‘s flamboyant Italian producer (Giancarlo Giannini doing Dino De Laurentiis) fires the blowhard director (Gérard Depardieu doing Roger Vadim), who has neglected to provide the picture with an ending, Paul improbably steps in.
The film-within-the-film, centered on Angela Lindvall’s leggy secret agent and Billy Zane’s crypto-Castro beefcake, has its share of fleeting pleasures (a delightful lunar snowfall, in particular), but CQ‘s loveliest passages arise when Coppola’s inner geek is least inhibited by retro-chic tyranny—i.e., when he focuses on oft overlooked aspects of moviemaking like looping, second-unit photography, and the vanishing artisanal craft of celluloid splicing. The film’s most tender romantic clinch involves Paul and his new Éclair 16mm camera.
Still, the abiding impression, despite the mild hallucinogenic buzz, is of overwhelming waste—the acres of haute couture can’t quite conceal that there’s nothing resembling a spine here. Part of the problem is that Davies’s character barely registers; Coppola’s apathetic director-protagonist is perhaps more telling than he’d like. There are brief moments when CQ (no discernible relation to the Clinic song, or the copyediting notation—it’s “seek you” in Morse code) threatens to take a position on the auteur theory. Coppola sets up the eternal conflict between personal and hired-hand filmmaking (an odd subject for a first-timer, though maybe not for a Hollywood kid), but like so much else in the movie, it eventually gets buried in the shag carpeting.
Another throwback, the largely hand-drawn Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron offers a morose, pallid account of how the West was lost, straight from the horse’s mouth. Not that the animals actually speak in this dreary adventure. In the interests of naturalism, Matt Damon (apparently still a favorite with all the pretty horses) channels the lead mustang’s thoughts, of which there are approximately two: Spirit must run free. Spirit will not be broken. Parents, be forewarned: No talking equines means more songs, and the viselike soundtrack might be someone’s idea of a cruel joke: hoarse whisperer Bryan Adams. (If we’re being conceptual, why not Patti Smith? Or “Judy and the Dream of Horses”? Or even Jewel, who had an album called Spirit and once rode a horse in a video?) The aesthetic evokes a My Little Pony coloring book, and every few minutes, an Ashcroftian eagle randomly soars into the frame, with healing in her wings as the land beneath her sings.