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'Number One Fan' Is A Subtle French Take On Obsessive Fandom

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 2, 2015 8:19PM

Sandrine Kiberlain in 'Number One Fan' (Photo: Distrib Films US).

Thanks mainly to Stephen King and Kathy Bates, a thriller titled Number One Fan suggests truly psychotic celebrity worship. The French, however, often have a subtler take on the thriller genre and such is the case with this well-acted and enjoyable exercise in playing with audience expectations.

The French title of the movie translates more closely to "she adores" and Muriel, a middle-aged beautician played by Sandrine Kiberlain (Alias Betty), certainly adores romantic pop singer Vincent Lacroix (Laurent Lafitte). Following his career for 20 years, she has attended concerts so regularly that she gets VIP backstage access. A shrine to the singer in her mother's home and her habit of making up wild tales to impress friends and family hint at some emotional instability.

But when Vincent's girlfriend meets an ugly end, Muriel is nowhere near the scene. The death is an accident triggered by a violent argument, but when the image-obsessed performer decides to cover it up, naturally things go badly. His first mistake is calling on Muriel to be his accomplice. Though she is more than happy to help, Muriel takes some curious detours from Vincent's scheme.

As a group of hardscrabble cops with their own internal melodrama gets closer to cracking the case, Vincent comes closer to cracking up. With the trail leading to Muriel, you might think you know where Number One Fan is headed, but like Vincent's plan, it's not quite that simple.

Laurent Lafitte (Photo: Distrib Films US).

In her first feature film as writer-director, actress Jeanne Herry seems quite comfortable working with top acting talent. Kiberlain makes Muriel's neediness evident, but never frightening, creating a character who remains empathetic even as she does truly foolish things. Lafitte is equally good as the star coming apart in crisis—his vanity always evident but never in a cartoonish or even villainous way. The supporting performances are also strong across the board.

Herry, the daughter of actress Miou-Miou and singer-songwriter Julien Clerc, obviously knows a bit about the private lives of the rich and famous, and the glimpses into Vincent's privileged life feel very real. Visually, however, the director doesn't show much artistry in Number One Fan. She seems content to follow her actors, capturing dramatic action with efficient but somewhat drab realism.

Herry's screenplay, co-written with Gaëlle Macé, has considerably more ambition. At times there is a hint of the sophistication and cynical wit of Claude Chabrol (This Man Must Die, La Cérémonie), whose long career included several memorable but subdued thrillers. And with so many good actors bringing the script alive, the movie gets by with its perfunctory imagery.

Those used to Hollywood thrillers building to a boil may be put off by the low-key vagaries of the movie's conclusion, but there are compelling ideas about the fan/star dynamic conveyed in the story's muted irony.

Number One Fan. Directed by Jeanne Herry. Screenplay by Herry and Gaëlle Macé. Starring Sandrine Kiberlain and Laurent Lafitte. 105 minutes. In French with English subtitles. No MPAA rating.

Opens Monday, Nov. 2 for a limited four-day run at Facets Cinémathèque (1517 W. Fullerton Ave.)